Sex Offender Hearing Postponed As Lawmakers Eye Tighter Laws

OCEAN CITY – A local man suspected of kidnapping and murdering an 11-year-old girl in Salisbury in late December made his first appearance in court since the tragedy this week for an unrelated incident in Ocean City in September, but his hearing was postponed in order to allow his defense attorney to get up to speed on the case.

Thomas James Leggs, Jr., 30, of Salisbury, appeared in District Court in Ocean City on Wednesday for a preliminary hearing on burglary and malicious destruction of property charges stemming from an incident in the resort in September when he allegedly broke into a residence downtown and made sexual advances toward a female victim.

The preliminary inquiry was postponed when Leggs’ defense attorney, Arch McFadden, told District Court Judge Daniel Mumford he needed more time to prepare his defense. The preliminary hearing has been tentatively reset for Feb. 8.

Leggs was arrested in late December in connection with the abduction and murder of 11-year-old Sarah Haley Foxwell, whose body was found near Delmar during a massive search conducted by thousands of volunteers after she was reported missing on Dec. 23. This week, a Wicomico County grand jury indicted Leggs on burglary and kidnapping charges and he remains a suspect in the child’s murder although no additional charges have been added yet.

Leggs has a history of sexual offenses and is listed on the sex offender registries in both Maryland and Delaware. His first reported offense occurred in 1998 when he was 18 years old and was convicted of a sex offense involving a 12-year-old girl, a conviction that landed him on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry. In 2000, Leggs was convicted on a fourth-degree sex assault charge for an incident involving a 16-year-old girl in Rehoboth that resulted in a listing on Delaware’s sex offender registry. He has been listed as a high-risk offender in Delaware since 2001.

Leggs, who worked at times in different restaurants and bars in Ocean City last summer, was arrested and charged with burglary and malicious destruction of property after breaking into the residence of the victim with whom he had become acquainted about 10 days earlier. On Sept. 11, Ocean City police responded to a residence on Philadelphia Ave. around 9th Street for a reported breaking and entering that had already occurred.

The female victim told police she awoke shortly after 4 a.m. to find a man, who she knew only as Tommy, standing next to her bed with his shirt off and his pants down to his knees. The victim asked Leggs to leave and he got dressed and left her room, but when she got up to check, she found the suspect still in her living room. It was at that point the victim discovered a screen door had been forced open. The victim again told Leggs to leave and this time he complied, which is when she called 911. It was later discovered the screen on a kitchen window had also been forced open with damage to the window frame, according to police reports.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the tragic kidnapping and murder in Salisbury, state and local lawmakers vowed to take a closer look at Maryland child predator laws and the effectiveness of the sex offender registry and appear to be making good on the promise. According to Delegate James Mathias (D-38B), in whose district the tragedy occurred, while budget and deficit issues dominated the first day of the General Assembly session on Wednesday, the Sarah Foxwell case was referenced early and often.

“During the governor’s opening remarks for the session, he made specific references to the tragedy and the need to strengthen our child predator laws,” he said. “It’s right out in front. The governor is moving on a bill and everything is moving in that direction. This issue is going to get a lot of scrutiny during the session.”

Mathias said state lawmakers are taking a closer look at the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act as a model for a potential revision to the state’s child predator and sex offender registry policies. Adopted in 2006, the act imposes new federal standards on state sex offender registration laws and requires a significant revision of Maryland’s sex offender registry and notification law by the July 2010 implementation deadline.

Thus far, only Ohio has complied with the provisions in the federal law, but the tragic Sarah Foxwell case has Maryland officials expediting the effort to come into compliance. If Maryland fails to achieve substantial compliance with the law prior to the deadline, the state could lose federal funding for law enforcement through the Department of Justice.

On Wednesday, Congressman Frank Kratovil (R-1), who represents the shore, wrote a letter to Governor Martin O’Malley and the Senate and House leadership urging them to bring Maryland into compliance with the federal law.

“Given the recent tragedy, I can think of no better motivation for the state of Maryland to make a commitment to protecting our children by coming into full compliance with revised federal standards,” he said. “I offer my full support and the resources of my office in Maryland’s fight against child predators.”