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Case highlights challenges of keeping child molesters safe in prison

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By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 10, 2010; 6:03 PM

A Montgomery County judge shaved 14 years off a child molester's prison sentence Friday, a ruling that followed the same judge cutting almost 16 years off another molester's sentence in 2008.

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In shortening the latest sentence, Circuit Court Judge Eric M. Johnson called Jason Lay a different person than he was five years ago, when he was convicted of making a 4-year-old girl perform sexual acts inside a townhouse in Germantown and sentenced to 30 years.

"I find your remorse to be genuine," Johnson told Lay, 26, who wore a blue state Division of Correction shirt and little expression on his face.

The new sentence, 16 years, is retroactive to 2005. Lay will be eligible for parole in 2013.

His case reflects the challenge of keeping child molesters safe in prison. Other inmates -- even those who give little thought to robbing or killing people -- often take a moral stand against child molesters, if only because they have children themselves.

Lay has been attacked by gang members, was once stabbed 13 times and is too scared to bring up his crime in group therapy sessions, said his attorney, Reginald W. Bours III.

"This man has served a lot more than five years in any realistic sense," Bours said. "He's a child sex offender. He is in constant danger."

Family members of the victim, who is being raised by a grandmother in Western Maryland, were outraged by the shortened sentence, and the notion advanced by Lay's attorney that Lay had suffered worse abuse than the victim.

"Jason is far more capable of defending himself than was my granddaughter at age four," a grandfather of the victim wrote in a letter to the judge filed in court.

The judge said he understood how the victim's family felt.

"I have a daughter. I'd be mad, too," Johnson said from the bench. "But we're in a court of law. We're not the way the country used to be back in the days of the roaring West, where judges did what the crowd wanted -- just, they want to hang him, that's what the judges did back in those days."

The case dates to 2003, when Lay was abusing alcohol and drugs. He was a friend of the victim's mother, and began molesting the girl when her mother wasn't there.


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