Death Penalty Sought In Fatal Kidnapping Case

OCEAN CITY – A Salisbury man accused of kidnapping and killing an 11-year-old girl in late December was formally indicted on first-degree murder charges this week by a Wicomico County grand jury, one day after asking for a jury trial for an unrelated case in Ocean City District Court.

On Tuesday, Wicomico County State’s Attorney Davis Ruark announced a grand jury had formally indicted Thomas James Leggs, 30, on first-degree murder charges for the death of 11-year-old Sarah Haley Foxwell, whose body was found near Delmar after a massive search conducted by thousands of volunteers after she was first reported missing on December 23. Leggs, who knew the child and reportedly had an off and on relationship with her aunt with whom she lived, was immediately identified as a suspect, but was charged initially with kidnapping and burglary.

Leggs, a registered sex offender in Maryland and Delaware, was officially indicted on first-degree murder charges on Tuesday. Ruark said during a press conference announcing the indictment, his office would seek the death penalty in the case.

“The evidence has been developed as such that the state will file a notice of intent to seek the death penalty and the notice of intent to seek life without the possibility of parole,” Ruark said in a news conference on Tuesday. “This is the start of a very long process. This is not the end of the investigation.”

The formal indictment came just one day after Leggs was scheduled to appear in District Court in Ocean City for an unrelated incident in the resort in September involving an unwanted sexual encounter with a young woman. Through his attorney, Leggs requested a jury trial on Monday, forwarding that case to Worcester County Circuit Court.

Leggs, who worked 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. The female victim told police she awoke shortly after 4 a.m. to find Leggs standing next to her bed with his shirt off and his pants down to his knees.

The victim said she met Leggs at a downtown bar and asked him back to her apartment, but when he made sexual advances toward her and tried to take her clothes off, she asked him to leave at that time and he complied.

In the early morning hours on Sept. 11, 2009, the victim awoke to find Leggs in her apartment. According to police reports, Leggs told the victim his roommates would not let him stay at his place and he had nowhere else to go. When the victim asked Leggs how he got in, he told her he entered through an unlocked door, but the victim knew she had locked the door.

The victim asked Leggs to leave and 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.

The victim had a cell phone number for Leggs, and when Ocean City police called him just before 5 a.m., he told the officer he had just left Ocean City and was about 10 minutes from Salisbury. Based on the victim’s testimony, along with the damage to the apartment and the timeline established by talking to the suspect on his cell phone, Leggs was later arrested and charged with fourth-degree burglary and malicious destruction of property.

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.

In the wake of the tragic death of Foxwell, state lawmakers vowed to take a closer look at Maryland sex offender laws during the current General Assembly session and have followed through on the promise with dozens of bills introduced thus far.

Delegates Norm Conway and James Mathias, who represent Worcester County and a vast section of the Lower Shore, introduced their own version of a bill that would, among other things, expand sex offender registration information and data sharing between neighboring states.

In addition, Governor Martin O’Malley has introduced his own legislation aimed at strengthening Maryland’s sex offender laws including lifetime supervision for certain sex offenders, stronger notification and registration procedures, the addition of those convicted of indecent exposure of the possession of child pornography on the registrations and criminal background checks for employees of facilities that care for or supervise children.