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Bill would bring harsher penalties for child killers

March 12, 2009|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

ANNAPOLIS -- The family of a slain Washington County infant is asking state lawmakers to consider a more severe penalty for those convicted of killing children.

A bill known as Justice's Law would make life in prison the maximum penalty for first-degree child abuse that results in death. The current maximum sentence is 30 years in prison.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, is sponsoring the bill on behalf of the family of Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon, who was 4 months old when he died in 2007 after being severely beaten by Floyd Edward Bingaman III of Hagerstown.

Shank introduced the bill last year but it did not advance out of committee. The bill is co-sponsored by Dels. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, and Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington. It was heard Thursday by the House Judiciary Committee but no action was taken.

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Bingaman was convicted in the boy's death and sentenced in January 2008 to 40 years in prison, with 10 of those years suspended.

Hagerstown resident Dee Myers, the boy's maternal grandmother, was in Annapolis on Thursday to testify in favor of Justice's Law. Joining her were her husband, Paul Spickler; Justice's mother, Ashley Brown; Justice's maternal grandfather, Richard Myers; and Ashley's stepmother, Leslie Myers.

Maj. Sam Billotti of the Washington County Sheriff's Office also spoke Thursday in favor of the bill.

"This is what we need to do for Justice," Dee Myers said. "As much as it hurts to open that door, we will for Justice."

She said that children like Justice are unable to protect themselves from their abusers, making them the most in need of protection.

"These are our children," Myers said during testimony Thursday. "And they are dying at the hands of people who they are supposed to trust."

Michelle Spessard, Justice's paternal grandmother, said "cowards" whose abuse of children results in death should spend the rest of their lives in prison," according to written testimony.

"We need to hold these perpetrators accountable for their actions," Spessard said. "Perhaps we need to set an example to all that we are not going to tolerate acts of this nature and hopefully make perps think twice before they commit an act like this against our children."

Spessard said her family struggles daily with Justice's death, but believes that something positive could come out of the tragedy if Justice's Law is adopted.

The bill also was supported Thursday by the Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City, which prosecutes the highest number of first-degree child abuse cases resulting in death in Maryland.

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