Maryland Appellate Court Upholds Sexual Child Abuse Conviction of Former Howard County Teaching Assistant
June 29, 2012
A Maryland appellate court has upheld the conviction of Karl Marshall Walker, Jr. on charges of sexual abuse of a minor and attempted sexual abuse of a minor. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed the September 2010 decision by a Howard County Circuit Court judge in a 39-page opinion issued on Thursday, June 28. Walker was convicted following a two-day bench trial and was sentenced to seven years in prison, followed by five years of supervised probation.
The Walker case is particularly significant because he was convicted primarily on a series of letters he wrote to a then-eight-year-old girl while he was employed as an elementary school teaching assistant by the Howard County Public School System. No evidence or testimony were produced at trial that Walker had committed any acts that were sexual in nature. In the letters, Walker, then 38, wrote of his love for the girl, expressed his desire to hold her in his arms, and fantasized about taking her with him to Las Vegas. The Court of Special Appeals took note of Walker’s letters to the victim, citing the contents from over two dozen letters in the opinion.
The investigation of the case began in March 2010, when a school teacher discovered a letter in a student desk. The teacher alerted the school principal who then contacted school system administrators and the Howard County police. Police conducted a search of Walker’s desk at the school and recovered many letters from the student victim. Walker’s attempt to suppress the letters and other evidence seized during that search was denied by Howard County Circuit Court Judge Richard S. Bernhardt.
The core issue Walker raised in his appeal was whether the evidence was sufficient to convict him of sexual child abuse based on Walker’s characterization of his letters as inappropriate and non-sexual in nature. That argument was rejected by the appellate court. Judge Michele D. Hotten, writing for the panel of three judges of the court, agreed with the finding of the trial judge, Diane O. Leasure, and opined that “while there was no evidence that the appellant’s (Walker’s) interactions with (the victim) fell within the scope of ‘sexual contact’ for a sexual offense, the magnitude of the conduct provided sufficient evidence for the circuit court to convict appellant of sexual abuse of a minor…”
In finding Walker guilty of the charges in 2010, Judge Leasure stated, “I know there’s a suggestion that the letters were inappropriate and perhaps passionate but not sexual in nature. It’s hard to read these letters, including the totality of these letters, and not find that they were sexual from the standpoint that the passionate comments they contained bordered, almost border on obsession, contained expressions of jealousy and certainly had sexual undertones.”
The Court of special Appeals also rejected Walker’s argument that his desk had been illegally searched and that the letters seized should have been suppressed.
Howard County State’s Attorney Dario J. Broccolino hailed the decision of the appellate court. “This was a groundbreaking case, both in law and for the children of Maryland who now have enhanced protection from patently inappropriate conduct by adults who would exploit minors both physically and emotionally. Judge Leasure gave the appeals court, a thoughtful, deliberative record in her rationale for convicting the defendant, based on the intent of the legislature in enacting the statute.” Broccolino commended Deputy State’s Attorney Mary V. Murphy and Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer W. Ritter who originally tried the case, and the Office of the Attorney General which defended the State’s case before the Court of Special Appeals.