Former shelter worker acquitted of child abuse

A former Sykesville Shelter Home counselor, accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old resident, was found not guilty by Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. yesterday.

"The court is in a situation where it has to make a decision beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed child abuse, perverted practice, fourth-degree sexual offense and battery," the judge said as he handed down his verdict. "The court cannot so find."


As Courtroom No. 1 in the county's Old Courthouse broke into applause, defendant Kenneth Charles Colburn, 27, smiled for the first time during his two-day trial.

"I'm just glad that all of this is over," Mr. Colburn said while his wife of two years, Jenifer, stood next to him. "But this doesn't change my opinion of the justice system. I don't ever want to help juveniles again."


Mr. Colburn, of Frederick, was indicted in September 1991 on seven counts, including two each of child abuse, fourth-degree sexual offense and battery, and a count of perverted sexual practice after the resident, now 16, told a counselor of alleged sexual encounters on April 14 and 15, 1991.

A carpenter by trade, Mr. Colburn testified yesterday that he took a job at the Sykesville Shelter Home in early 1991 because he realized the building trade was not going to provide him with a steady income and he "wanted to help juveniles, to show that somebody who's been around the block and turned his life around can change and live on the straight and narrow."

Mr. Colburn was placed on administrative leave from the shelter home in June 1991, about two weeks after the resident told a counselor of her allegations at a new group home she was entering.

Mr. Colburn is now employed outside the counseling field.

The girl, whose tearful testimony was heard yesterday, was assigned to the shelter home in early April 1991.

According to testimony by Carole Shelton, the Sykesville Shelter Home's clinical director, state Department of Juvenile Services officials warned her of the resident's promiscuous nature, her tendency toward using obscene and suggestive language and her expressed desire to "have and use sex."

Ms. Shelton also testified to the girl's plans to "have Ken" and of her desire to "have a baby."

Shelter officials met with Mr. Colburn to warn him to stay away from the girl, Ms. Shelton said.


On the stand, Mr. Colburn denied having any sexual relationship with the resident, and he denied specifically the charge that he fondled her and performed a sex act with her.

Testifying Monday, she admitted to having a crush on Mr. Colburn, saying she "egged him on."

The girl, who has been in and out of youth shelters for the past five years, is now hospitalized in Baltimore, undergoing treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.

Charles O. Fisher Jr., Mr. Colburn's attorney, argued that the girl -- and a witness to the alleged sexual contact called by prosecutors yesterday -- had no credibility.

"The state would have you believe we are dealing with a sensitive, demure young lady who was wronged and upset," Mr. Fisher said in his closing argument. "I would suggest we are dealing with a promiscuous, drug- and alcohol-dependent young lady who is manipulative."

Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker III disagreed.


"The defense attorney would have us believe that [the girl is] a bad kid and we shouldn't believe her," the prosecutor said. "I'm sorry, but that's not the way we should pursue this case. She came to the shelter home in need of help. What she got was abuse. She's a classic, perfect victim in this case."

In his verdict, the judge said he found much of what the resident said to be credible, but that the weight of the evidence did not convince him that Mr. Colburn was guilty of abusing her.

"The court has had some difficulty sorting out what is fact and what is fantasy in this case," Judge Beck said.