BERLIN — A bill introduced in the General Assembly that would greatly enhance the penalties for accessory after the fact in a murder case, cruised out the House this week and is on its way to passage by the Senate.
Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B), who represents Worcester County and the lower shore, is among the eight co-sponsors of House Bill 709, which, if approved would increase the maximum sentence for those convicted of being an accessory after the fact in a murder. Now called the “Sheddy-Bennett Bill,” the legislation was approved by a vote of the full House on Wednesday and now heads to the Senate.
The bill has its roots in a Worcester County homicide in the Pocomoke area dating back to 2007 after which the remains of the victim, Christine Sheddy, were finally found buried under a Snow Hill bed-and-breakfast over two years later. Also included as a catalyst for the legislation is Whitney Bennett, a Delaware resident who went missing in the Salisbury area whose remains were later found in Somerset County.
Under current Maryland law, an accessory after the fact charge falls under a broad array of crimes and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The legislation proposed by McDermott and seven of his colleagues in the House would greatly enhance the penalties for accessory after the fact convictions in murder cases to a level commensurate with the crime.
“As it stands now, accessory after the fact is a rather generic crime with no real disparity in sentencing based on the seriousness of the case,” he said. “This bill would segregate a homicide from other crimes in terms of sentencing. For example, right now an accessory after the fact for a burglary case carries a five-year sentence and an accessory after the fact in a homicide carries a five-year sentence.”
The legislation proposed by McDermott and his colleagues would increase the maximum penalty for accessory after the fact in a first-degree murder case to 20 years, while an accessory after the fact conviction in a second-degree murder case would be increased to 10 years. While the bill has its roots in the Christine Sheddy murder case in Worcester in 2007 and the Bennett case in Wicomico, McDermott said there are countless other examples of other cases in Maryland where the new maximum sentences would apply.
“The Sheddy case was the catalyst for this bill, but there are cases all over the state where these sentencing enhancements could apply,” he said. In October, Tia Johnson, 32, pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact for her role in the cover-up in the murder of Sheddy and was sentenced to five years for that charge. Johnson also pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary and was sentenced to an additional 10 years, resulting in a net total of 15 years, of which about half was suspended.
In November 2007, Sheddy was reported missing from a farm house in the Pocomoke where she had been staying with Johnson and her boyfriend Clarence “Junior” Jackson and Johnson’s cousin Justin Hadel. The case remained a missing persons case for nearly two years until Hadel was arrested and ultimately convicted of first-degree murder in Sheddy’s death. Jackson and Johnson were later arrested.
Jackson was found to have a role in the murder and admitted being the ringleader and mastermind behind the cover-up. He was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced in October to life in prison with all but 30 years suspended. For her part, Johnson knew more about the murder than she originally admitted and drove to the River House bed-and-breakfast in Snow Hill knowing Sheddy’s remains were in the trunk and waited while Hadel and Jackson buried the victim on the facility’s grounds.