Commission protects, celebrates Md. women

March 11, 2007|by BOB MAGINNIS

The mission of the Maryland Commission for Women includes serving as a statewide resource to expand social, political and economic opportunities for all women. That covers many things, including celebrating the achievements of women and publicizing health issues such as post-partum depression that affect the state's female citizens.

But in 2007, the commission's task is a bit more urgent - trying to make sure that Maryland's youngest females don't fall victim to sexual predators.

Maryland currently has a form of Megan's Law which requires child sexual offenders and others to register, so that after their release from prison, their whereabouts can be tracked by parole officials and neighbors, too.

But in 2005, John Couey, a registered sex offender in Florida, was able to elude police surveillance there because he was staying with his sister. According to news reports from CBS TV's Early Show, the sister's home was only a short distance from the dwelling of Jessica Lunsford.


Police there say Couey confessed to abducting 9-year-old Jessica from her own bedroom, then raping and killing her. The Florida legislature reacted by introducing a bill that would force every child sexual offender who was released to wear a GPS tracking device, so police could monitor their movements around the clock.

Dee Mayberry, the commission's Western Maryland representative and chair of its legislative police committee, said the focus of the bill her group is publicizing is removing prosecutorial and judicial discretion in plea bargains and sentencing decisions.

SB 413 and HB 930, which have been cross-filed, would prevent the state from paroling a child sexual offender during the term of the mandatory minimum sentence.

I asked Mayberry to give me an example of how the bill would change what happens now, but she said that would be difficult, because there are different degrees of sexual offenses, each with its own set of penalties. What these bills seek to do, she said, are to end the discretion prosecutors and judges have to impose lesser penalties in exchange for a guilty plea.

Mayberry acknowledged that part of the opposition these bills faces comes from those who believe that child sexual offenders can be cured and the compulsion to abuse overcome. But most of what I have read about the disorder is that it is akin to alcoholism - the predator can refrain from abusing, but is never actually "cured."

So, I asked Mayberry, is the answer going to be to lock sexual predators up and never let them out.

"In many cases, yes," she said.

Mayberry said the Washington County delegation has been supportive - State Sens. Don Munson and Alex Mooney are co-sponsors, as are Dels. Chris Shank and Richard Weldon - but the chances of success are not as good "downstate."

There are some, she said, who are willing to settle for "half a loaf," especially in cases that aren't so strong. Such people believe that keeping the ability to reduce sentences in exchange for a plea makes sense, because it at least takes the offender off the street for a number of years.

(I understand that point of view. A number of years ago, I sat in on a session in which then-County Health Officer William Christoffel angrily confronted law enforcement and prosecutorial officials about why there were so many more child-abuse arrests than convictions. What we heard was that these crimes often take place with no witnesses, with the victims often reluctant to testify because they fear retaliation or have developed some misguided loyalty to the perpetrator.)

"We have a great deal of pride in our prosecutors," Mayberry said, adding that they will give such cases their top priority.

Asked whether anyone could really be against a law to protect children, Mayberry said the problem is not with the language of the bills, but with the fact that lawmakers are overwhelmed with the number of bills they must review in a 90-day session.

The Maryland Commission for Women is about more than legislation, however. It also honors women of great achievement in its hall of fame. Those enshrined there include Hagerstown's Grace Snively and the latest addition, Col. Annette Deener of Sharpsburg, chief of staff of the Maryland National Guard.

Col. Deener and a group of others will be inducted into the hall on Wednesday, March 14 at 5:30 p.m. at the Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis.

I interviewed Mayberry for about an hour on Tuesday and you can hear a recording of that interview by going to and going to "Maginnis interviews." If you have a question for Mayberry, she will return to The Herald-Mail for an online chat on Tuesday, March 13 at 1:30 p.m.

To participate, go to and click on "chat." Or you may e-mail questions in advance to

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