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Local families advocate for Justice's Law

Bill would increase penalty for child abuse resulting in death to life in prison

March 08, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Dee Myers (at podium) urged a Senate committee on Thursday to pass a law increasing the penalty for first-degree child abuse causing death. Myers' 4-month-old grandson, Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon, was shaken to death in January 2007. Other supporters of the bill included Julie A. Drake (foreground), a prosecutor with Baltimore City's Family Violence Division, and Jordan Appel (background), whose 5-week-old daughter, Bella, was shaken to death in January 2010.
Photo by Andrew Schotz

ANNAPOLIS — Dee Myers’ voice still cracks as she softly tells lawmakers the story of her grandson’s death five years ago.

The 4-month-old boy, Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon, was shaken to death in January 2007. Floyd Edward Bingaman III of Hagerstown was sentenced to the maximum 30 years in prison.

She asked state Senate committee members Thursday to close their eyes and imagine a young relative “laying in a hospital bed with tubes and wires everywhere, their head swollen beyond belief. They’re bruised, motionless. They’re lifeless. The smile, the brightness beaten and shaken out of them.”

Myers and Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, are seeking passage for the fifth time for Justice’s Law, which would increase the penalty for first-degree child abuse causing death from 30 years to life in prison.

Along the way, they’ve been joined by other advocates, including Jordan Appel of Hancock, whose 5-week-old daughter, Bella, was shaken to death in January 2010.

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

Appel told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that McKee will be eligible for parole at age 37, after serving half of his sentence.

She said she’s not seeking vengeance, but wants to fix a law that can “bind the hands of the courts.”

Julie A. Drake, a Baltimore prosecutor speaking for the State’s Attorneys’ Association, said the court should be able to decide if a harsher sentence is merited.

While Shank was a delegate, his bill failed three times in the House. The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Calvert/Prince George’s, has said current law already affords adequate punishment for a judge to impose.

But Shank argues that a murder conviction is unlikely because intent in these cases is hard to prove.

Shank said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee chairman, also has been skeptical, but has listened to possible compromise ideas.

One is increasing the maximum penalty to 40 years instead of life. Another is allowing a life sentence if a pattern of abuse is proven.

Shank said he’d rather have a life sentence as proposed, but “you measure success in incremental ways. It’s time to get something (stronger) passed.”

Thursday’s hearing came after several hours of other proceedings in the committee. As the hearing ended, only three of the 11 senators on the committee remained.

According to Shank, 35 people have been convicted of first-degree child abuse resulting in death in Maryland since 2004. Nineteen received the maximum 30-year sentence.

At least one similar case is pending in Washington County, involving the October 2011 death of 2-year-old Logan Sellers.

The same version of the bill also was scheduled to be heard Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee, with Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, as a sponsor.

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