Judge refuses request to lower Merzbacher bail


A Baltimore Circuit Court judge yesterday refused to lower bail for John Joseph Merzbacher, despite pleas from the former teacher's wife and attorney that he was not a risk to flee before being sentenced for sexually abusing a middle school student two decades ago.

In a letter to Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman, Gloria Merzbacher said her husband had no money and never would leave his family.

"Family, friends and neighbors have continued to give financial as well as spiritual support," Mrs. Merzbacher wrote. "I fully realize that in the eyes of the law that John is now presumed guilty, but in our hearts and minds he is still the man he was before he was charged.

"He will not leave me, his daughter, or his friends and family willingly. We are his life, and he would take his own before running from us."

Judge Hammerman kept bail at $500,000, a figure Merzbacher is not likely to post, said M. Cristina Gutierrez, his lawyer. A jury Thursday convicted Merzbacher of statutory rape, common-law rape, perverted sexual practices and sexual child abuse of a 34-year-old Cockeysville woman when she was his student at Catholic Community Middle School in South Baltimore from 1972 to 1975.

The case was the first of what could be 14 criminal trials involving the former teacher. He is charged with more than 100 counts of sexual and physical abuse of students and other teen-agers during the 1970s.

Ralph Abramovitz, Merzbacher's employer, testified yesterday that Merzbacher faithfully showed up for work at Hebbville Auto Body while free on his preconviction bail of $250,000. He said he would continue to employ Merzbacher if given the chance.

Ms. Gutierrez yesterday asked that the next trial be postponed because of intense publicity. She charged that Elizabeth Murphy, the victim in the first case, recently contacted tabloid television shows.

Ms. Murphy denied that. "It's a very serious crime," she said. "I would never sensationalize it."

Deputy State's Attorney Sharon A. H. May said Ms. Gutierrez had encouraged media coverage by talking to reporters.

Judge Hammerman set the next case for June 26. It originally was to involve a 32-year-old man who said he was abused while he lived with Merzbacher for four years. But the order may change, after prosecutors and defense attorneys disagreed over scheduling yesterday. Prosecutors are to tell the court Thursday which case they plan to bring next.

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