Fight for Justice's Law renewed, with new voices

Bill could subject child abusers to life in prison

February 17, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |
  • Dee Myers testifies Thursday in Annapolis for passage of Justice's Law, a bill that could subject child abusers to life in prison. The bill is named for her grandson, Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon, who died in January 2007.
By Andrew Schotz, Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS — Three families ripped apart by shaken-baby deaths implored state lawmakers Thursday to toughen the maximum penalty for fatal child abuse.

They were in Annapolis to support Sen. Christopher B. Shank's fourth attempt to gain passage of Justice's Law, a bill that could subject child abusers to life in prison.

The current maximum prison term for first-degree child abuse causing death is 30 years.

One speaker was Dee Myers, whose family has fought for the change alongside Shank the last four years.

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

Myers said abused children can't defend themselves and don't have a voice to express "the horrific pain that they went through."

During Bingaman's trial, a doctor testified that Justice's injuries were the worst he'd seen in 30 years.

Bingaman was found not guilty of first- and second-degree murder, but convicted of lesser charges, including involuntary manslaughter.

In addressing the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee  Thursday, Shank, R-Washington, said Maryland law falls short. Adults who shake babies to death don't plan their actions ahead and don't intend to cause death, making a murder conviction unlikely, he said.

Shank's bill failed three times in committee while he was a delegate.

Besides lobbying a new committee in the Senate this year, he also has new advocates.

Jordan Appel, whose 5-week-old daughter, Bella, was shaken to death more than a year ago in Hancock, made a similar plea to the committee.

She said the details of Bella's death were "too horrific for me to discuss here today."

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

Appel said she isn't seeking vengeance; instead, she wants to correct a legal loophole that could let a young offender get out of prison and harm again.

"Maryland doesn't take risks," she said. "Not with the Chesapeake Bay, not with emissions, not with our roadways. We need to make a statement that as a state, we don't take risks with the lives of our children, either."

Like Myers, Kelly Ulrich of Hurlock in Dorchester County at times was on the verge of tears as she spoke in favor of the bill.

Her 9-month-old son, Trevor, also was shaken to death. His day care provider was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with 10 years suspended.

"Child abuse resulting in death is abuse," Ulrich said. "That is, it's cold and calculated as any murder that uses a gun or a knife. These abusers, as you've heard today, chose to use their bare hands to murder our helpless children."

Washington County Sheriff's Office investigators who handled the Bingaman and McKee cases added their support for the bill, as did Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Brett Wilson, who prosecuted McKee.

Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, has filed a similar version of the bill in the House.

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