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Sex-abuse suspect's confession disallowed


A Carroll County Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that a 31-year-old Westminster woman, charged with sexually abusing her 15-year-old foster son, involuntarily confessed to the crime.

In a written opinion, Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. granted the woman's request to suppress the taped confession, which prosecutors had planned to use as evidence against her at her pending trial.

Judge Beck heard the suppression arguments Oct. 22.

During that hearing, defense attorney J. Barry Hughes argued that the woman's confession to fondling her foster son was obtained only after she declined to speak to Westminster Police Lt. Dean A. Brewer and after she believed she would receive lenient treatment if she confessed.

Judge Beck agreed.

"Instead of ceasing the interrogation the detective pressed for more information, obtained a confession that might, or might not, be true," he wrote in the opinion. "If questioning continues without a waiver of constitutional rights, then any information obtained is involuntary."

Judge Beck also threw out a diary of the woman's sexual fantasies involving her foster son.

But he ruled that the woman's confession can be used by prosecutors during cross-examination if she testifies at her trial.

The confession was taped by Lieutenant Brewer on Feb. 21 at the city police station. In the first half of the statement, the woman -- whose name is being withheld to protect the identity of her foster son -- denied any sexual contact with the boy.

But after a 13-minute break that police say was to provide the woman with a drink of soda, she confessed to two episodes of sexual abuse.

"I admit to touching his [genitals]," she said to Lieutenant Brewer.

At issue in the judge's decision was a defense argument that the woman didn't want to answer the lieutenant's questions.

Both before and after being told of her constitutional rights, she told Lieutenant Brewer she didn't want to talk to him.

"In its most simple terms, the issue is when does 'no' mean 'no,' " the judge wrote. "Police have no more right to engage an individual in conversation than any other person would have. If a person does not want to speak to a police officer, a person does not have to."

The woman was arrested on a warrant March 10 when she and her father went voluntarily to city police. She was charged with one count of child abuse, one count of perverted practice and six counts of fourth-degree sexual offense.

Police were alerted to the alleged abuse after the 15-year-old boy spoke to a guidance counselor.

Mr. Hughes declined to comment on the ruling, except to say he was pleased. Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III, who is prosecuting the case, said he intends to push forward with the case.

"The system works, the trial is set for Jan. 4 and we're set to try it," he said.

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