A longtime Howard County schoolteacher who sexually abused a close relative in the 1980s was sentenced yesterday to three years' probation in a case that was first reported to authorities more than a decade ago - but never pursued in court.
Despite William Emil Becker's admission to police in 1990 that he molested the girl, no charges were filed then, and school authorities apparently were not told about the allegations, prosecutors said.
The case resurfaced last year when the victim, now 29 and also a teacher in the Howard County school system, sought counseling and was encouraged to contact the state's attorney's office.
Becker, a 26-year school system veteran who had taught technical education at Wilde Lake Middle School since 1983, has been suspended without pay since September, according to lawyers and school officials. He was indicted Aug. 27.
"There is no rhyme or reason why this did not get to court in 1990," prosecutor Mary Murphy told Howard Circuit Judge Lenore R. Gelfman.
Calling the case "disturbing," Gelfman said she was troubled that Becker, 54, had been working as a teacher before his indictment.
Becker, of the 8500 block of Hayshed Lane in Columbia, pleaded guilty to child abuse in October.
"I don't think you have any place around children," Gelfman said before imposing a three-year prison term with all but one day suspended and three years' supervised probation.
Becker, who already served the day in jail awaiting trial, was also ordered to get sex-offender treatment, to register as a child sexual offender and to pay $1,465 for the victim's therapy.
A Howard police spokeswoman said yesterday that neither department policy nor law required that officers notify the school when the initial police report was made in 1990.
Through lengthy and tear-filled testimony yesterday, the victim said she finally told her mother about the abuse when she entered high school in 1988 - four years after she said Becker first molested her while watching pornographic movies.
They went to a therapist, who did not report the abuse allegations for two years, the victim and Murphy said.
'Forgive and forget'
When police finally were called and Becker's admission that he molested her went nowhere, the victim said she thought that her therapist, who also counseled Becker and told her to "forgive and forget," was right.
"Not because I had dealt with my own issues around the abuse, but because by having the inner power to suppress, or forget, I could try and live a 'normal' life," she told Gelfman. The Sun does not name victims of sexual assault.
The victim, who said the abuse started in 1984, is married and has two children.
Her daughter's birth in 2002 "brought back all my fears and insecurities," she said, her voice halting as she struggled to read her six-page victim impact statement in court.
She said she sought counseling at the Sexual Trauma, Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center last year and was encouraged to contact child protective services.
When an interviewer with protective services, who treated her "no better than a piece of dirt," told her to seek counseling and find religion, she called the Howard County state's attorney's office, she said.
"As an adult, I decided that this was not good enough," she said. "It was time that the defendant be held accountable for the things he did to me."
Prosecutors say the victim agreed to allow investigators to record a call between her and Becker. During that call, he told her he was sorry and that he has not had the same urges since the abuse, prosecutors said.
He later admitted in a police interview that he molested the victim, prosecutors said.
Beckers lawyer, James B. Kraft, said that while his client accepts responsibility for what he did, the victim's mother is also to blame for not being more of an advocate for her daughter when the allegations were first made.
"Everyone seemed to let this fall under the rug at the time," he said.
There have been no allegations that Becker, who apologized in court to the victim yesterday, ever did anything "untoward" as a teacher, Kraft said.
After the hearing, Kraft said he hoped that the victim would find justice in yesterday's proceedings.
"I hope she is able to move forward with her life, knowing that Mr. Becker has finally and publicly accepted responsibility for this terrible act," he said.
Murphy said the verdict has brought peace of mind to the victim, whom she called incredibly strong and forthright.
For her part, the victim said she believes that by not letting go, she has sent a message to others "to stay with the system, and if you're persistent, it works."