The state's Court of Special Appeals Thursday upheld the September 2010 conviction of a Columbia educator who was found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor for writing a third-grader dozens of explicit love letters.
The case had set a new precedent in Maryland for a sex crime conviction without evidence of inappropriate physical contact.
Howard County Circuit Court Judge Diane Leasure ruled on Sept. 24, 2010, that Karl Marshall Walker Jr., who was 38 at the time and had worked as a paraeducator at Bryant Woods Elementary School for three years, sexually exploited an 8-year-old girl by giving her notes that spoke of his passion for her, his desire to kiss her and his request that she keep their correspondence secret.
"Sexual acts are not only limited to physical acts," Leasure said at the time. "The totality of these letters, the hugging and the hand holding were exploitative."
Leasure cited notes that read, "When you hug me tight, it's the best part of my day"; "I don't think perverted thoughts about you, I just care about you"; "tear this up after you read it, tear the other notes too"; "I am sad because I really love you and I am not supposed to"; "I do think about kissing you sometimes."
Walker, who was sentenced to seven years in prison, followed by five years of supervised probation, appealed the decision, arguing that the letters, while inappropriate, were non-sexual in nature and should not be sufficient evidence to convict him of sexual abuse. He also raised the question during the appeal of whether the Circuit Court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence that was seized from the desk he used at Bryant Woods.
The Court of Special Appeals agreed with Leasure's ruling and the Circuit Court's decision denying Walker's motion to suppress the evidence.
"We hold that (Walker's) actions and letters, in conjunction with the impact on (the victim), supplied a sufficient basis for the circuit court to convict him of sexual abuse of a minor," Judge Michele Hotten wrote in the Court of Special Appeals decision issued June 28.
Howard County State's Attorney Dario Broccolino praised the court's the decision.
"This was a groundbreaking case, both in law and for the children of Maryland who now have enhanced protection from patently inappropriate conduct by adults who would exploit minors both physically and emotionally." Broccolino said in a statement. "Judge Leasure gave the appeals court a thoughtful, deliberative record in her rationale for convicting the defendant, based on the intent of the legislature in enacting the statute."