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Former teacher pleads guilty to sex abuse

June 20, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

WASHINGTON COUNTY

A former Boonsboro Middle School social studies teacher pleaded guilty Monday to sexual child abuse for inappropriately touching one of his female students more than 20 years ago.

Robert Merle Haines Jr., 47, of 511 Dewey Drive in Annapolis, remained free on bond Monday after his plea in Washington County Circuit Court to the single charge, which carries a maximum 15-year sentence.

Circuit Judge John H. McDowell ordered that a background investigation be prepared for sentencing, a date for which was not set.

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Under the plea agreement, Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Gina Cirincion agreed to seek at most a five-year prison sentence for Haines, who was 24 when he inappropriately touched the 13-year-old girl, who was his student during the 1983-84 school year.

Washington County State's Attorney Charles Strong said after the hearing, "We're satisfied with the plea that occurred today, which brings closure for the victim after these many, many years. Unfortunately, this was a matter that was never reported to the Department of Social Services or police by the School Board."

As Cirincion read over the facts that supported her case, Haines, seated between his attorneys at the defense table, bowed his head and rested his forehead on his hands, which were raised in a prayer position.

Cirincion said Maryland State Police began an investigation into Haines' behavior in July 2005 after the victim, who is now in her 30s, contacted police. Charges were filed in September 2005, she said.

When the woman was 13, Haines - in his first year teaching at the school - made inappropriate sexual comments to the girl. On one such occasion, he told the girl, "Show me your belly button and I'll give you a candy bar."

Cirincion said he inappropriately touched her on a couple of occasions, including while she graded papers, but the abuse reached its peak in March 1984, when the girl went into his office to retrieve a book.

"That situation was very traumatic," she said. Haines exposed himself to the girl and touched her private area, she said.

Haines was originally charged with raping the girl, but Cirincion did not mention the alleged rape when she read over her case, in accordance with the plea agreement. Witnesses remember how distressed the girl was after leaving the office, Cirincion told McDowell. One teacher "heard the (victim) sobbing through the wall," she said.

A "cursory investigation" was initiated by the School Board into the allegations and "Haines was allowed to resign. The victim swallowed this for 20 years."

In exchange for the plea, remaining charges were dropped against Haines that alleged he inappropriately touched other female students that school year, Cirincion said.

The victim declined to comment during and after the hearing.

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