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Baby Justice's relatives plea passionately for child abuse law

February 22, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - With sadness and passion, relatives of a Washington County infant shaken to death a year ago personally urged legislators to increase the sentence for fatal child abuse to life in prison.

"These children look to us for protection ...," said Dee Myers, a grandmother of Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon, who was 4 months old when he was shaken to death on Jan. 6, 2007. "I'll never get to hold my grandson again .... I have to go to a cemetery and talk to a marker."

On Thursday, several members of Justice's family testified in Annapolis before the House Judiciary Committee.

They joined local law enforcement officials, a prosecutor and Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, in pushing for Justice's Law, which would raise the maximum prison sentence for abuse that causes a child's death from 30 years to life.

Their only opposition came from Brian Denton, the district public defender for Prince George's County, Md.

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He said the proposed change would boost the penalty for a crime that doesn't require proof of intent above the penalty for some intentional killings.

Floyd Edward Bingaman III of Hagerstown, a former boyfriend of Justice's mother, was found guilty in November of involuntary manslaughter, first-degree child abuse and second-degree assault, but not guilty of first- and second-degree murder.

He was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Justice's relatives said they're angry he could be free after serving 15 years.

"This bill makes eminent practical sense," Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Robert Veil told the committee.

In her brief testimony, Justice's mother, Ashley Myers, said that if she could save another family "from having to possibly look at the person who killed their child, like I might have to in 15 to 30 years, then my child's not gonna die in vain."

She left the hearing room right after she spoke, knowing that subsequent testimony would be too graphic for her to stomach.

Indeed, Washington County Sheriff's Department Investigator Greg Alton described how Justice was violently shaken, then his head was knocked against a blunt object three times.

He said Justice's death has been considered one of the worst local child-abuse cases in many years.

Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore sat in the audience, holding a family poster of Justice so committee members could see it. He later testified.

Several of Justice's relatives on his mother's side attended the hearing.

So did Bob and Michelle Spessard, Justice's paternal grandparents. Both addressed the committee.

Reading from a written statement, Michelle Spessard's voice broke as she said he won't "grow to accomplish life's steps - first tooth, first step, first day of school, graduation from high school, marriage, and even have children of his own."

The committee isn't expected to vote on Shank's bill until at least next week.

After the hearing, Ashley Myers said the family's quest for a stronger penalty will continue, no matter what happens this year.

"If it doesn't go through this time, it's going to eventually," she said.

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