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Justice's Law could get another look from Judiciary Committee

April 05, 2010|By ERIN JULIUS
  • Dee Myers testified before the Maryland House Judiciary Committee on a bill named for her grandson, who was killed in January 2007. Justice's Law, a measure introduced by Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, left, would increase the penalty for first-degree child abuse resulting in death.
By Erin Julius,

ANNAPOLIS -- A bill increasing penalties for those convicted of abusing and killing a child, introduced three consecutive years by a local lawmaker, could get another look by the Judiciary Committee, the committee chairman said Friday.

Justice's Law, a measure introduced by Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, would increase the maximum penalty for conviction on a charge of first-degree child abuse resulting in death from 30 years to life in prison.

Floyd Edward Bingaman III, formerly of Hagerstown, is serving 30 years in prison for the death of 4-month-old Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon, for whom the measure is named.

Bingaman was convicted in 2007 in Washington County of first-degree child abuse resulting in death and involuntary manslaughter.

Justice's Law --H.B. 523 --did not make it out of committee in previous years.

Last session, it received an unfavorable report from the committee. In 2008, the bill was heard by the committee, but no further action was taken, according to the fiscal note prepared by the Department of Legislative Services and attached to the bill.

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The House Judiciary Committee heard the bill --for which Shank and Justice's grandmother Dee Myers testified --on Feb. 18. No action has since been taken by the committee.

Scheduling a bill for a vote before the committee is done at the chairman's discretion.

The problem with the bill, Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Calvert/Prince George's, said Friday, is that in what he termed the "tragedy" of a shaken baby, there are already enough crimes of which the defendant can be convicted and sufficiently punished.

Sufficient criminal penalties exist for tragedies, he said.

However, "I do have a problem with the idea people would get out at such an early stage," Vallario said.

Justice's family has said they believe Bingaman, who was dating the boy's mother at the time of his death, should have received a longer sentence. He faced a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison.

Bingaman, 24, will be eligible for parole after 15 years.

The time should fit the crime, Vallario said.

While it's kind of late in the session for a bill to be vetted by the committee, Judiciary will look at it again, Vallario said.

However, the bill probably won't be voted out of committee this year either, because it has too many issues to deal with, he said.

Myers started an online campaign to generate support for the bill.

She posted Wednesday and Friday on her Facebook page, encouraging people to call or e-mail Vallario in support of Justice's Law.

Myers also e-mailed the chairman's information to everyone on her e-mail list, encouraging them to make contact, she said Thursday.

Shank knows enough committee members would vote for the bill to send it to the full House, the delegate said Friday.

It's frustrating that it's up to Vallario whether or not the bill is put to that vote, Shank said.

"He (Vallario) certainly recognizes the tragedy and feels this was a bad verdict," he said. "It's just a matter of getting him to accept that it's not just an isolated case and this happens tragically all too often."

Justice's death wasn't an isolated case, and he knows of 13 cases in the past four years in which severe physical abuse led to the death of a child, Shank said.

During her February testimony, Myers talked about another child who died in the area, saying that when she testified for Justice's Law last year, "I was thinking about baby Colton."

Colton Lee James was taken to Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson, W.Va., with a brain injury on Dec. 6, 2007. He died four days later at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Colton's mother's former boyfriend, Michael Todd Cox, was convicted in Jefferson County, W.Va., of Colton's death in March 2009, and was sentenced to life with mercy in June.

Cox had a prior conviction --in Montgomery County, Md. -- for manslaughter for another baby's death.

In 1992, 11-month-old Amber Koehler died from blunt-force trauma to the head she received while in Cox's care. Cox had been linked romantically to Amber's mother as well.

Had Cox been made to serve life in prison for his conviction in Amber's death, Colton would still be alive, Myers said during her testimony.

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