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Crime

Appellate Court of Maryland denies new trial for ex-Baltimore County police officer convicted of rape

The Appellate Court of Maryland denied a former Baltimore County police officer’s request for a new trial on a second-degree rape conviction, upholding a lower court ruling.

In November 2021, Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Keith Truffer sentenced Anthony Westerman to four years in prison. Truffer allowed Westerman to remain on home detention pending an appeal, making it unlikely he would serve time behind bars, prosecutors said.

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Westerman’s defense team asked the intermediate state appellate court, previously known as the Court of Special Appeals, to overturn the lower court’s judgment and to grant a new trial on four of the original eight charges. Arguments took place in October, according to online court records.

In an opinion last month, the Appellate Court of Maryland ruled that Westerman’s waiver of a jury trial was voluntary, hearsay evidence was properly admitted and there was sufficient evidence for a charge of second-degree assault charge alleged by one woman.

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Westerman’s attorney Todd Hesel wrote in an email that his legal team was “disappointed in the decision” and that his attorneys intend to seek further review in the Supreme Court of Maryland.

Police began investigating Westerman in October 2019 based on allegations of sexual assault reported by three women in 2017 and 2019, according to charging documents. He was indicted in December 2019 on charges including counts of second-degree rape, counts of second-degree assault and other sex offenses.

Truffer found Westerman guilty in August 2021 of second-degree rape and other sex offenses in a 2017 incident involving a 22-year-old woman and second-degree assault from an encounter with a different 22-year-old woman in June 2019. He was acquitted of charges in another reported assault in June 2019.

The Baltimore County Police department fired Westerman in 2019 after his sentencing. He was an officer during the time of each allegation.

Attorneys for Westerman said in their appeal that he agreed to a bench trial only because there was a lack of available jury trials due to the COVID-19 case backlog, with Westerman saying that he had found the wait for trial unbearable.

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The court sided with the state Attorney General’s Office, writing that Westerman’s decision to waive his right to a jury trial was not coerced just because he was faced with waiting for a jury trial or having an early bench trial date set. “The choice of whether to wait remained with Westerman,” the opinion said.

The court also rejected an argument from Westerman’s attorneys that the trial court should not have allowed testimony from a witness who described what a victim told her about the sexual assault, saying that her testimony was hearsay and not admissible.

In the opinion, the court agreed with the Attorney General’s Office that the woman’s testimony fell within the bounds of “prompt complaint of sexually assaultive behavior,” an exception to hearsay rules.

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Westerman’s attorneys had also challenged Truffer’s finding of second-degree assault related to one of the encounters, arguing that an unwanted kiss stopped. The appellate court supported the trial court’s decision, saying that the lower court properly relied on the woman’s testimony that Westerman’s touching was “unwanted and offensive” when he grabbed her neck and waist.

When Westerman was sentenced, TurnAround Inc. and the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault said in a statement that his “light sentence” sent the wrong message to sexual assault survivors.

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger agreed, telling The Baltimore Sun at the time, “I do not believe when you’re convicted of second-degree rape that home detention is appropriate and I certainly don’t believe only four years on this kind of crime is appropriate.” Shellenberger declined to comment on the Appellate Court’s opinion.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office declined to comment, saying the office doesn’t discuss pending litigation.


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