Maryland lawmakers plan to try again to make mass violence threats a crime

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Local,Maryland,Crime,Naomi Jagoda

Maryland state lawmakers said they'll try again next year to pass legislation that specifically makes it a crime to threaten mass violence.

Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks lobbied for a criminal-code change in light of two high-profile mass threat cases that took place last year.

In March 2012, then-University of Maryland student Alexander Song threatened to go on a shooting rampage at the school. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of disturbing activities at school and telephone misuse and was sentenced to three years on probation.

Last July, Neil Prescott, of Crofton, threatened to shoot up his Prince George's County workplace. He referred to himself as a "joker" shortly after the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., during a screening of a Batman movie.

But Prescott was charged only with misdemeanor telephone misuse -- a charge with a maximum penalty of three years behind bars and a $500 fine. The case against Prescott is still pending.

When bills about threatening mass violence were initially introduced in the General Assembly, they called for the charge to be a felony.

However, Del. Kriselda Valderrama, D-Prince George's, who co-sponsored the House of Delegates' bill, said another delegate sought to make the proposed crime a misdemeanor because the charge is for a threat rather than for the actual occurrence of mass violence.

Both chambers of the legislature amended their versions of the bill to make the crime a misdemeanor, but the maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine remained intact.

Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office spokesman John Erzen said that although there's no difference in penalty length between misdemeanors and felonies, sometimes employers only ask applicants about prior felony convictions.

On the last night of the legislative session, state Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George's, prevented the Senate from passing the House's bill. The Senate's bill didn't make it out of a House committee.

Muse said that he wanted to revert the offense back to being a felony and that he did not want to pass a "watered-down" version of the bill.

"It's easier to write a law than to change a law," he said.

Valderrama said that although she preferred that the offense be a felony, she could understand other lawmakers' hesitations. She noted that Alsobrooks continued to support the legislation after it was amended.

"We all know we have to start somewhere," Valderrama said.

njagoda@washingtonexaminer.com

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