"It's like living it all over again, even if it's 10, 20, 30 years later, there is still that ongoing trauma," Mandel said. "You've got to go back and open all the wounds up again."

Merzbacher was ultimately convicted of rape, child abuse and perverted practice for his attacks on Murphy, and sentenced to four life terms plus 10 years. The other cases were dropped, because, as then-prosecutor Sharon A.H. May said, "He's 53. He won't go anywhere for a long, long time."

May did not return a message seeking comment, and a second prosecutor on the case declined to discuss it because of the appeal.

At the sentencing, Merzbacher spoke briefly. "I have just one short statement to make to the court," he said, "and that is that I am innocent."

Such persistent claims of blamelessness lead his former students to believe that Merzbacher would not have accepted a plea deal if it had been offered years ago, so it shouldn't be offered today.

"It's a get-out-of-jail-free card, basically on a technicality," said Mary Lewandowski, whose criminal case also was dropped. "It doesn't change the fact that he's guilty. So basically, our legal system is saying 'Yeah, he's a monster, he did all these things to children, but ... we've got to do right by him.'"

'Now we're angry'

Lewandowski would reopen her case in a second, if it were up to her. But it may not be possible, if Merzbacher is offered and accepts the original plea deal, which included a provision to drop those known cases.

If that were the situation, new cases "that weren't known at the time can be prosecuted now," said Doug Beloof, a professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., who specializes in the role of victims in criminal procedure.

Merzbacher worked at three other schools in Baltimore County and city before Catholic Community, which was shuttered in 2009, and dozens of people have reportedly said they had experiences similar to Murphy's. At least 40 people came forward in the 1990s, the civil attorney told media at the time.

It's up to Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein to determine whether to bring new cases in the city. Through a spokesman, he declined to discuss the issue, saying he preferred to "let the appellate process conclude and then evaluate the outcome before making decisions regarding next steps."

He, along with several area politicians or their designees, signed an online petition in 2010, expressing support for those trying to make sure Merzbacher completes his sentences.

"You have my commitment to do everything in my power to keep this violent child rapist behind bars," Bernstein, then in private practice and campaigning for the top prosecutor spot, wrote in an email to Murphy.

Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said in a statement that officials there have again "reached out to the State Attorney General and the State's Attorneys for Baltimore City and County, with offers of support and cooperation, including the sharing of information possessed by the Archdiocese that may be helpful in any effort to pursue continued incarceration for Merzbacher," since the recent Supreme Court decisions bolstered the likelihood that he could be released.

But the strongest drivers behind the effort remain Merzbacher's former students. They have a vigil planned for early June at the former Catholic Community School — now home to a Montessori school — across from Latrobe Park on East Fort Avenue, and are talking every day online about what more they can do.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to keep him behind bars," Lewandowski said. "If that means rehashing all of these things and going through the ridicule and embarrassment of being on the witness stand, that's what were going to do, because now we're angry."

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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