So many whys in the death of Sarah Foxwell of Maryland

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

AN 11-YEAR-OLD GIRL disappears, a frantic search is mobilized, her body is found on Christmas Day. The circumstances of her death are as unimaginable as the grief of her family. But there are critical questions that need to be answered: Foremost, whether there was a failure of justice that allowed the release of the convicted sex offender who is suspected in her death.

Sarah Haley Foxwell was abducted from the bedroom of her home in Salisbury, and three days later found dead. Thomas J. Leggs Jr., 30, a registered sex offender who had been acquainted with her family, was arrested and charged with kidnapping and burglary. He was ordered held without bond on Monday, and authorities said they anticipate filing additional charges. Autopsy results are pending.

The suspect has a lengthy arrest record in Maryland and is listed on both the Maryland and Delaware sex offender registries. The Maryland case dates to 1998, when he was convicted of a third-degree sex offense involving a child. In 2001, he pleaded guilty in Delaware to fourth-degree rape for having sex with a teenager who was not yet 18. He served one year in jail and was placed on probation for the remainder of the seven-year sentence. At the time of his arrest in the kidnapping of Sarah, Mr. Leggs was awaiting trial on charges of burglary and destruction of property in Ocean City. It's unclear how much members of Sarah's family knew about his background.

"What in the hell is he doing back out on the street, and what is he doing having contact with this child?" is the million-dollar question posed by Jerry Norton of Citizens for Jessica's Law in Maryland, a group that fights to toughen laws governing sex offenses. Specifically, was the Delaware sentence appropriate in light of his previous sex offense, and should his later run-ins with the law have triggered revocation of his probation?

Some Maryland lawmakers are already talking about the need for tougher laws. Such calls are premature until it's known what exactly happened. Wicomico County State's Attorney Davis Ruark, in charge of the Foxwell case, told us he is intent on getting to the bottom of the matter and has been in touch with Delaware officials.

There are no good explanations for why an 11-year-old should die, but it's critical that all the facts be known.

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