High Court Denies Rape Conviction Appeal

BERLIN — The Maryland Court of Special Appeals this week denied an appeal of an Ocean City man convicted of rape and sexual offenses following an assault in the resort in May 2013, upholding the Worcester County Circuit Court judge’s ruling in the case.

On May 29, 2013, Ocean City police received a complaint of a sexual assault involving an adult female victim and a 32-year-old male suspect. During the subsequent investigation, the victim identified the suspect as James Lee Travis, 32, of Ocean City. Further investigation revealed the during the early morning hours of May 24, 2013, the victim and Travis were out for the evening at an area restaurant with friends and later returned to a residence on Bayshore Drive.

While at the Bayshore Drive residence, the victim went to sleep and woke up to find Travis allegedly sexually assaulting her. In July 2013, a Worcester County grand jury indicted Travis on a second-degree rape count and other sex offense charges. In Circuit Court, Travis was found guilty of second-degree rape, a second- and third-degree sex offense and second-degree assault. He was sentenced to 20 years in jail for the second-degree rape conviction, 10 years of which were then suspended. The other counts to which Travis pleaded guilty were merged with the second-degree rape conviction for the purpose of sentencing.

However, Travis, through his attorney, later appealed the Circuit Court ruling in the case in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, asserting the state’s evidence was not legally sufficient to support the convictions, the guilty verdicts handed down by Judge Thomas Groton were inconsistent and that the judge erroneously found him guilty of second-degree sexual offense after earlier announcing the verdict on that count was not guilty. Further, Travis argued in the appeals court the interaction with the victim was consensual.

During trial, the victim testified she had been drinking and it was late and she had gone to sleep and woke to found Travis having intercourse with her. The victim said she was in various stages of consciousness before becoming fully awake, but remembers with clarity the events leading up to the assault. The high court ruled in its opinion released this week the Circuit Court judge reached his verdicts after fully accepting the victim’s version of the facts.

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“It is only with respect to the proof of the second-degree sexual offense and third-degree sexual offense that we turn to the victim’s testimony about her semi-conscious memory of what occurred before she came fully awake in the process of being awake,” the appeals court opinion reads. “Judge Groton expressly found the victim to be completely credible. He accepted, as was his fact-finding prerogative, not only her fully conscious memory but also her hazier quasi-conscious memory.”

The Court of Appeals opinion suggests Travis was seeking to characterize the victim’s failure to report the rape to the police for a week as a sign there was consent, a fair reading of the victim’s post-rape behavior could be deemed as strong evidence the intercourse had been non-consensual.

“To get up suddenly within two hours of having gone to bed and to drive home at 5 a.m. is not a routine reaction for one who is comfortable content with the events of the preceding evening,” the high court’s opinion reads.

After citing considerable case law, the high court denied Travis’ appeal and ruled in favor of the state.

“Even if the appellant were able to persuade us that we could, should we wish to do so, notice plain error, he has failed to persuade us why we might wish to,” the opinion reads. “The short answer is we don’t.”

Shots Fired Over Pool

SALISBURY — A Parsonsburg man was arrested last week on first-degree assault and other charges after allegedly discharging a shotgun in and around a residence and threatening the occupants.

Around 1 a.m. on Aug. 14, Wicomico County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a residence on Parsonsburg Rd. for reports that a suspect, later identified as Jason Layfield, 41, of Parsonsburg, was discharging a shotgun outside and inside of the home and threatening the occupants. Wicomico Sheriff’s Deputies and Maryland State Police troopers arrived on the scene and took Layfield into custody without incident.

An investigation by the Wicomico Bureau of Investigation (WBI) revealed Layfield returned to the home with signs of intoxication and was allegedly upset over a game of pool. Layfield began to argue with the occupants of the home, retrieved a shotgun from his bedroom, went outside and discharged the weapon into the air, according to police reports.

Layfield allegedly then went back inside, reloaded the weapon and threatened a female occupant of the residence. Layfield then turned the weapon on himself and threatened to take his own life, according to police reports. He then discharged the weapon inside, firing a shot into the living room ceiling, according to police.

No injuries were reported during the incident. In addition, Layfield was found to be in possession of a large quantity of marijuana along with paraphernalia suggesting intent to distribute. Layfield has been charged with first- and second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, possession and possession with intent to distribute CDS and possession of CDS paraphernalia.

30 Years For Abuse

SALISBURY — A Salisbury man pleaded guilty in Wicomico County Circuit Court to two counts of sex abuse against a minor stemming from incidents dating back to earlier this winter and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, of which he will serve at least half.

James Allen Guy, Sr., 65, of Salisbury, pleaded guilty on Tuesday in Wicomico County Circuit Court to two counts of sex abuse of a minor. Judge Kathleen Beckstead sentenced Guy to 30 years in prison, of which he will be forced to serve half before becoming eligible for parole. Upon release, Guy will be forced to register as a Tier III, or high risk, sex offender and will remain under supervised probation for the rest of his life.

According to police reports, the abuses occurred against two pre-teens and were classified as crimes of violence. The abuses occurred between January 1 and March 16 of this year.

Boating Patrols Planned

OCEAN CITY — With the arrival of the holiday weekend, Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) is urging boater safety and announced this week it will be conducting saturation patrols in waters all over the state including in and around the Ocean City area.

“Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer as tens of thousands of residents and visitors head out on the water, relax in our state’s parks and campgrounds, and begin early hunting seasons,” said Colonel George F. Johnson IV, NRP superintendent. “Plan ahead and be vigilant. We need everyone to do their part.”

NRP officers will be conducting saturation patrols on Maryland waterways and will have an enhanced presence in all 66 State parks, from Deep Creek Lake to Ocean City including in and around the coastal bays.

Last Labor Day weekend, NRP officers handled 10 boating accidents that resulted in injury. They arrested seven people for operating a boat while impaired by alcohol or drugs and 11 people for other criminal acts. They also wrote 365 tickets, issued 995 warnings and inspected 1,300 vessels.

Johnson has directed officers to continue targeting reckless or negligent boaters and those under the influence of alcohol. The maximum penalty for operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol is a $1,000 fine and a year in jail for the first offense. Thus far this year, the NRP has investigated 19 water-related fatalities in Maryland, which is very close to the total for all of 2013 with four months still remaining in 2014.

Boaters and swimmers are urged to wear a life jacket and have a flotation device handy while on the water. Always swim near a lifeguard and obey all warning signs from lifeguards. Never boat or swim while alone or while impaired and check the weather and tides before heading out.

School Bus Safety Urged

BERLIN — With school back in session this week across much of Maryland and Worcester County students getting ready to return next week, the Maryland State Police (MSP) and allied local law enforcement agencies this week issued a reminder about school bus safety.

The MSP this week said school buses are still the safest way to transport children back and forth to school, but the risk is getting them on and off the bus safely. In Maryland, 600,000 students begin and end each school day with a trip on a school bus and the MSP took the opportunity this week to remind drivers of a few safety tips to help ensure all of those kids make it to school and back home again safely. The state police are reminding drivers to play close attention when driving in proximity to schools and school buses.

Motorists are reminded to look for flashing lights. The flashing yellow lights on a school bus indicate it is preparing to stop to load or unload students. The red flashing lights show the bus is stopped and students are getting on or off. Drivers should not pass in either direction when the red flashing lights are activated unless on a divided highway.

Motorists are reminded to never pass a school bus on the right. The consequences could be tragic if students are loading or unloading. Drivers are reminded to stop at least 20 feet either in front of or behind the bus when its red lights are flashing, which allows the students enough space to safely enter and exit the bus.

Parents and guardians are reminded to walk the route with younger students. Whether a child walks to school or just walks to the bus stop, it is important for an adult to walk the route with them, especially if they are younger. Parents and guardians can point out hazards to children and alert them to locations along the route where they need to pay special attention.

Finally, motorists are reminded to be alert and slow down. Keep an eye out for students, because they may be thinking about getting to school, but not always in the safest manner.