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Victim's dad defends defendant

March 29, 2001

Victim's dad defends defendant



By JULIE E. GREENE / julieg@herald-mail.com

A Hagerstown man convicted of having sexual contact with a teenage girl had an unlikely defender in Washington County Circuit Court Thursday - the victim's father.

The father asked Circuit Judge Donald Beachley for a lenient sentence. His wife, however, was vehement in asking for a harsher sentence.

The man was living in the couple's home when the incident occurred.

Beachley said it was the only time since he has been on the bench he had encountered such a difference of opinion between parents.

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The 38-year-old defendant pleaded guilty Thursday to the attempted second-degree rape of the then-13-year-old girl. Beachley sentenced him to 12 years in prison after listening to the parents of the girl, now 15.

Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Gina Cirincion asked for the defendant to be sentenced to 10 to 12 years as part of the plea agreement.

The girl's father said he thought a lot of the defendant, knew he had problems and didn't want to see him go to prison. The father, who said he had served time in prison, asked Beachley to find a way to help the defendant.

"A 10-year sentence, that's harsh," the girl's father said. "I don't wish to see him do a full 10 years, but he hurt my daughter and betrayed my trust."

The girl's mother told Beachley 10 years was "very lenient" given the impact the incident would have on her daughter throughout her life.

"If I had my way, I'd take him out behind the courthouse," the mother said.

Cirincion said the parents' opposing opinions demonstrated the "hallmark of sexual abuse and what it does to the family."

Beachley encouraged the family to seek counseling.

The family took in the defendant in the fall of 1998, Cirincion and Public Defender Mary Riley said. The defendant was described by the attorneys as an unemployed alcoholic with a ninth-grade education who can't read and write well.

In June 1999 the defendant began inappropriately touching the girl, Cirincion said. That July he unsuccessfully attempted to have intercourse with her, Cirincion said.

Asked if she had anything to say, the girl relayed a message through Jill Ritter, director of the victim/witness unit.

"She's sorry for telling on him, but it's his fault, not hers," Ritter said.

Beachley and Cirincion emphasized that the girl should not feel responsible for the defendant's actions.

The defendant repeatedly apologized in court to the girl and her parents.

"I appreciate everything you did for me," he said.

The girl's father responded, "I love you like a brother. You used me."

Beachley sentenced the defendant to 18 years in prison and suspended six years. After his release he will be on probation for three years.

Beachley ordered the man to register with the sex offenders registry, have no contact with the girl or her family, and seek alcohol treatment after his release.

Under the plea agreement, two counts of second-degree sex offense and one count each of second-degree rape, third-degree sex offense, sexual child abuse and unnatural and perverted act were dropped, Cirincion said.

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