After braving memories, could rape victim face attacker at Md. parole hearing?
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
For the better part of three decades, she struggled with anorexia, panic attacks and two failed marriages - all propelled by her attempts to ignore what happened.
But she could hardly forget it. She was only 16 and hitchhiking in Potomac. A man named Bill Wallshleger picked her up, pulled out a gun, taped her eyes shut and placed sunglasses over the tape so others wouldn't suspect trouble. He drove her to his farm in Virginia, took her into an unfinished basement, chained her, humiliated her, raped her.
A therapist helped her face the crime. She was getting her life in order. She got engaged. Everything seemed to be falling into place.
And then came the call.
It was a prosecutor in Montgomery County. Her attacker was up for parole. He had been a model prisoner, the prosecutor told her, and it might help keep Wallshleger in prison if she spoke about her ordeal. Did she want to come to Maryland and talk at his parole hearing?
So now, this woman, this victim, who spent all that time trying not to think about Bill Wallshleger, had to decide whether she could walk into a prison and look him in the eye.
She certainly didn't want Wallshleger released, and the prosecutor's question gave way to a broader one: Did she have the strength to confront the incident again and so publicly?
The Washington Post is withholding the victim's name because of a long-standing policy of not identifying victims of sexual assault. Her account was confirmed by court records, parole records and statements made at trial by Wallshleger's attorneys, who argued that he was criminally insane at the time of the crimes.
As Virginia and the District phase out parole, Maryland embraces it as a way to encourage inmates to improve enough to reenter society safely. The state holds 10,000 hearings annually. Fewer than three rape victims a year typically come to speak, because doing so means reliving the assault in front of the attacker.
"It takes more courage than anything I can think of," said David Blumberg, chairman of the Maryland Parole Commission, "and that is why it doesn't happen very often."
It almost didn't happen in Wallshleger's case, either.
The woman's decision was difficult, weighed over a couple of months. The Parole Commission wrote and called first, part of its effort to give victims their say at hearings. She declined. Then the prosecutor called. She started to feel selfish: What if Wallshleger got out and hurt someone else? She grew uncomfortable with how scared she was to confront him. "Being that affected," she said, "meant that that day, that event and that person still had power over me."