ANNAPOLIS —A Maryland Senate committee Thursday approved a bill toughening the penalty for child abuse causing death — the first positive vote for the measure since it was proposed in 2008.
After four years of trying — and failing — in Annapolis to increase the 30-year maximum penalty to life in prison, Sen. Christopher B. Shank, the bill’s sponsor, changed the proposed maximum to 40 years in prison.
No one on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee objected to the amended bill on Thursday, so it was given a favorable report and sent to the full Senate for a vote.
The bill is known as Justice’s Law, named after 4-month-old Justice Christopher Calvin Myers-Cannon, who was shaken to death in Washington County in January 2007.
Floyd Edward Bingaman III of Hagerstown was sentenced to 30 years in prison for Justice’s death.
Now, the looming question is what will happen on the House side.
The bill languished and failed the first three years in the House Judiciary Committee, where the panel’s chairman, Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Calvert/Prince George’s, has been skeptical.
In its previous four years, the bill never come up for a vote in the House or Senate committees.
Asked Thursday, after the Senate committee advanced the bill, if he’d support 40 years as a maximum sentence, Vallario said: “I have no idea. I gotta take a look at it.”
Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, who cross-filed the bill in the House, said he expects to talk more with Vallario about the 40-year maximum.
Shank, R-Washington, told the Judicial Proceedings Committee that he still preferred a sentence of life in prison, but he’d settle for less.
“Forty years is a very viable compromise,” he said in an interview later, noting that it would mean the offender would be eligible for parole in 20 years.
Dee Myers, who, with Shank, has pressed for passage of the bill the past five years, was similarly pleased by the progress. She said Shank sent her a text message from the committee right after the bill advanced.
Justice was Myers’ grandson.
“In reality, no (sentence) is enough for a child’s life ... (but) 10 more years is better than nothing,” Myers said during a telephone interview.
She said that no matter what happens this year, she and other Justice’s Law advocates will continue pushing for tough criminal justice for child abusers.
Jordan Appel of Hancock, whose 5-week-old daughter, Bella, was shaken to death more than a year ago, testified this year and last year in favor of Justice’s Law.
Bella’s father, Nicholas Ray McKee, is serving 30 years for first-degree child abuse resulting in death, plus five more years consecutive for manslaughter.
Shank said one failing of the current law is that first-degree child abuse carries a maximum sentence of 25 years, but the maximum increases only five more years if the abuse resulted in death.
He has said a murder conviction carrying a life sentence is unlikely in cases of children shaken to death because of the challenge of proving intent.