A former Columbia school worker whose love letters to an 8-year-old student led to a precedent-setting conviction for sexual abuse asked the state's highest court Friday to overturn the finding.
Karl Marshall Walker Jr., 41, was convicted in 2011 of sexual abuse and attempted sexual abuse of a minor based on his letters to the girl.
His lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Katherine Rasin, told the Court of Appeals on Friday that Walker, a former teacher's aide at Bryant Woods Elementary School, neither molested nor sexually exploited the girl, nor had he tried to.
"There has to be something sexual for it to be sexual child abuse," Rasin told the seven judges.
Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. asked Rasin if it would be accurate to summarize her argument as saying Walker's conduct was "creepy but not criminal." She said it would.
Assistant Attorney General Brenda Gruss disagreed with that characterization. She said Walker's notes describe hugging the child and fantasies about kissing and waking up with her, and that he wrote "I am totally in love with you," and that he felt like Cullen to her Bella — the couple from the "Twilight" series — which she said suggested that he could have been grooming her for future sexual abuse.
"In the context of the letters, he made her responsible for his happiness," Gruss told the judges.
Walker has denied grooming the child for sexual abuse.
Gross said the fact that Walker told the girl to rip up a letter shows he knew what he was doing was wrong. She said he benefited from his conduct but the child didn't — a key to exploitation, she said.
At issue in the case is exactly what constitutes exploitation of a minor in the child abuse law.
Walker had worked at Bryant Woods for three years when one of his letters was discovered in 2010 after furniture was moved. He was barred from the building and later arrested.
Howard County Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure found Walker guilty of abuse, saying that "sexual acts are not only limited to physical acts," and that the letters, taken as a group, "were extremely suggesting in an inappropriate and sexual manner."
Walker's defense attorney for the trial said he was the first person to be convicted of the sex charges when no physical sexual contact had taken place.
The Court of Special Appeals agreed with Leasure's interpretation. Walker then appealed to Maryland's top court.
There is no deadline for the Court of Appeals to issue a ruling.