Baby's mother, Shank gain allies in new try to pass Justice's Law

February 02, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |
  • Shank

ANNAPOLIS — After three years of legislative failure, Dee Myers is steadfast in her quest to strengthen the state's penalty for first-degree child abuse that causes death.

She now has new allies.

Her 4-month-old grandson, Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon, died in January 2007. Floyd Edward Bingaman III was sentenced to 30 years in prison for shaking Justice to death.

Currently, 30 years is the maximum prison term in Maryland for that crime. Myers and Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, have pushed to make life in prison a possible sentence.

This year, with Shank filing the bill for the fourth straight year, two other families are joining the cause.

One new supporter is Jordan Appel, whose 5-week-old daughter, Bella, was shaken to death more than a year ago in Hancock.

Bella's father, Nicholas Ray McKee, is serving 30 years for first-degree child abuse resulting in death, plus five more years for manslaughter.

After reading a Herald-Mail story about the Justice's Law bill last year, Appel said, "I wanted to jump right on board."

She said the state must value a child's life as much as an adult's.

In 2005, as a Hancock Middle-Senior High School senior, Appel was an intern in the House of Delegates. She hopes to attend law school this fall.

Kelly Ulrich of Hurlock in Dorchester County, whose 9-month-old son, Trevor, also was shaken to death, is getting involved, too, Myers said.

Trevor's day care provider was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.

Three families might have a stronger voice than one, Myers said.

Shank is submitting the bill again in his first year as a senator. It failed three times when Shank was a delegate.

He said he's always been close to passage in committee; one year, it fell two votes short.

Asked why the bill has failed, Shank replied: "A chairman of the Judiciary Committee that has been vehemently opposed to the bill."

"When you have a strong committee system, with a chairman that, you know, is basically allowed to make the decisions one way or another as to the calendar and the flow of the bills — he has been able to single-handedly block that piece of legislation," he said.

The Judiciary Committee chairman is Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Calvert/Prince George's.

Vallario, a defense attorney, said he sees no need to change the law. There's already adequate punishment available for a judge to impose, he said.

Shank said cases in which infants are shaken to death are hard to prosecute as murders — there's usually no premeditation or intent.

He pointed to another Hancock case, in which a man was prosecuted for murder after intentionally setting a house on fire for sympathy and money. Two girls died in the fire.

Child-abuse resulting in death should have a life-sentence option, the same as murder, Shank said.

Myers has vowed to keep fighting.

"It doesn't matter if we're at this for 10 years," she said. "We're never going to stop."

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