Parents of Murdered Boy Seek $70 Million From State
By David Snyder
Date: September 19, 2003
The parents of Christopher Ausherman, the 9-year-old Frederick boy whose grisly murder brought about changes in Maryland sentencing laws, has sued the state, alleging that state agencies failed to adequately imprison and treat the boy's killer.
Elmer Spencer Jr., 47 , had been released from prison five days before Christopher's death on Nov. 20, 2000, after serving 31/2 years of a 10-year sentence for sexually assaulting a Frederick woman in 1997.
Mary Voit, Christopher's mother, and his father, Christopher Ausherman Sr., filed a lawsuit Sept. 10 alleging that the state was negligent because state agencies let Spencer out of prison early for accruing good behavior points.
The lawsuit also alleges that the state should have forced Spencer, a convicted sex offender, to undergo regular treatment.
"Spencer's brutal battery of sexual abuse and murder of Christopher were reasonably foreseeable acts," the lawsuit alleges, and goes on to say state officials "had the duty to prevent such acts."
The lawsuit seeks $70 million in damages.
Spencer had been diagnosed several times with severe mental illnesses, including a 1982 diagnosis of pedophilia and paranoid schizophrenia, according to court documents filed in Carroll County Circuit Court.
Starting in 1974, Spencer was charged several times with sex crimes. In 1982 he was convicted of raping and attempting to kill an 11-year-old Carroll County boy.
A spokesman for the Maryland Attorney General's Office, which handles such claims against the state, said that as of early this week her office had not been served with papers.
"We have not received the lawsuit and do not have any comment," Jamie St. Onge said.
Spencer was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault in Christopher's killing in February 2002. He later was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In an interview in the Frederick apartment where she raised Christopher and now raises his two brothers, Mikey, 4, and Jessie, 12, Mary Voit said the lawsuit is an attempt to remedy some of the economic and emotional suffering she underwent after the boy's death.
"[Spencer] should have never been let out" of prison, Voit said. "I feel the state is at fault."
Voit, 39, said her financial situation and her health have improved some since her son's death. She was suffering from insomnia for many months after the murder, she said. She works about 26 hours a week as a cashier at a McDonald's in Frederick.
She is trying to move Christopher's body to Frederick from Pennsylvania, where the boy's father lives and wanted to have him buried.
Voit's lawyer, Paul Victor Jorgenson, said in a telephone interview that precedent suggests that Voit and Christopher Ausherman Sr. may not be awarded the entire $70 million.
But, he said, the amount the lawsuit seeks "is actually well within the range of what's being awarded in these situations."
The boy's birthday was Sept. 18; he would have been 12 today. He disappeared Nov. 19, 2000, from the front yard of Voit's unit in the Carver Apartments, a public housing complex on Frederick's south side.
After several hours of searching for the boy, Voit called the police. The body was found early the next morning in a dugout at McCurdy Field, a Little League ballpark maintained by the city of Frederick.
Investigators would later determine that the boy, whose body was found naked and beaten, had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle said at the time that he wanted to seek the death penalty against Spencer, but could not because Maryland law bars the execution of the mentally retarded. Spencer's IQ tested below 70, which is the commonly accepted threshold for mental retardation.
The boy's death set off a wave of attempts by state legislators to change the way repeat sex offenders are sentenced.
More than eight "Christopher's Laws" were submitted to the General Assembly in 2001, aiming to make it harder for repeat sex offenders to leave jail.
All of the bills failed in 2001. In 2002, two "Christopher's Law" bills were signed into law.
The laws require the lifetime registration of violent sexual offenders and allow judges to sentence repeat violent sexual offenders to life in prison without parole.
Original article at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A26829-2003Sep17.html
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