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Walker v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

July 8, 2013

KARL MARSHALL WALKER, JR.
v.
STATE OF MARYLAND

Circuit Court for Howard County Case No. 13-K-10-50260

Bell, C.J., Harrell Battaglia Greene Adkins Barbera McDonald, JJ. [*]

OPINION

Barbera, J.

While working at a Howard County elementary school, Petitioner Karl Marshall Walker, Jr. gave to an eight-year-old female student a series of notes in which he repeatedly professed his love for her, shared fantasies of kissing and holding her, and expressed jealousy about her having a boyfriend. At the time he wrote these messages, Petitioner was 38 years old. Following a bench trial in the Circuit Court for Howard County, Petitioner was convicted of sexual abuse of a minor and attempted sexual abuse of a minor under Maryland Code (2002, 2012 Repl. Vol.), § 3-602 of the Criminal Law Article.[1] Sexual abuse is defined at § 3-602(a)(4)(i) as "an act that involves sexual molestation or exploitation of a minor, whether physical injuries are sustained or not." The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the convictions. Walker v. State, 206 Md.App. 13 (2012).

Petitioner does not deny that his behavior was highly inappropriate but he argues that his actions did not amount to a crime. He also argues that a search of a desk he used at the school violated his right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. We granted a petition for a writ of certiorari, Walker v. State, 429 Md. 81 (2012), to answer the following questions:

1. Did the lower courts err in holding that Petitioner did not enjoy a reasonable expectation of privacy in his work desk for purposes of a Fourth Amendment challenge to a search of the desk?
2. Whether sexual abuse of a minor is committed by the exchange of non-sexually explicit letters and drawings?

For reasons we shall explain, we answer no to the first question and yes to the second. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals and uphold Petitioner's convictions.

I.

A student teacher, while moving the children's desks in a third-grade classroom at a Howard County school on March 17, 2010, discovered an unusual note in the desk belonging to an eight-year-old female student, whom we shall refer to simply as C.[2] The note appeared to be written to C from Petitioner, a paraeducator[3] for the school's special education program who was assigned to help certain students in that classroom. The student teacher testified at Petitioner's subsequent trial that the letter was inappropriate, disturbing, and "something that . . . should not have been in a child's desk." She immediately showed the note to the third-grade teacher, Ms. P, who testified that it was "alarming."

The letter was addressed to "Steelergirl" and signed, below four heart symbols and four Xs, by "Raven-K." The contents were as follows:[4]

U won't see me after school 2day. I really miss u when we r away. I can never get any time wit u. U look so pretty n gorgeous 2day. Purple is my favorite color and u look so good in it. I had a dream that we went 2 Las Vegas on a plane. I was screaming loud and you said, "Stop being a bitch and man-up." I said, "O.K." I love when u r forceful and mad. We had fun holdin hands and hugging. We watched movies and went to a club to dance.
I loved the bear u made me. I hoped the MSA[5] went well. U r so smart and beautiful. U r right. I care about u so much. My heart aches when I m away from u. If anyone ANYONE hurts u, I would fuckin kill them.
Know that my [heart symbol] will always b-long 2 u. I do think about kissing u sometimes but I'd never do it if u didn't want 2. At least I can kiss your picture every night. I know this is a little strong but its how I feel bout you.
I hope u miss me as much as I miss u when we r away.
[Eye symbol] m n [heart symbol] with U always.

C testified that Petitioner called her Steelergirl in his letters and she referred to him as Raven-K because she was a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team and he was a fan of the rival Baltimore Ravens team. Ms. P presented this letter, along with C's writing journal, [6] to the school's principal, Mr. M, around 3:30 p.m. that day. Mr. M testified that he was immediately concerned by the letter, and he searched C's desk to see if there were other similar letters. After finding a second letter, Mr. M called the school district's central office and alerted police. A member of the Howard County Police Department arrived to take the letters and begin an investigation. Although Mr. M testified that he did not recognize the handwriting in the letters, he said that he suspected Petitioner was "Raven-K" because Petitioner's first name began with the letter K and he was known to be an enthusiastic Ravens supporter. Ms. P testified that she was familiar with Petitioner's handwriting because of his work with her students, and she identified all of the letters from Raven-K as having been written by Petitioner.

Mr. M called Petitioner that evening but Petitioner did not return the call until the next morning. Mr. M told Petitioner that, pending further investigation, he was not to come to the school. Petitioner asked what was happening and Mr. M told him he was not at liberty to discuss it. Petitioner did not come into the school that day and never asked to retrieve his belongings from his desk.

By the time the letter was discovered, Petitioner had been working at the school as a paraeducator for nearly three years. Petitioner was assigned to multiple classrooms where he worked with specific special education students who had defined disabilities; he also helped other students as the need arose. Additionally, he assisted with the dismissal of students at the end of the school day. Petitioner was assigned to work with several students in the third-grade class and spent about an hour per day in that classroom. School employees described Petitioner as having a problem with professional boundaries because he was "overly friendly" with many students at the school; he acted more like a friend than a teacher, gave students high-fives in the school hallways, or hugged them. Ms. P stated she counseled Petitioner that it was against school policy to give candy to students after she saw him give a candy bar to one girl but no one else. Petitioner talked to some students more than others, including C and her sister, and C often initiated hugs with Petitioner, according to Ms. P. C testified that Petitioner gave her candy and money, hugged her, and sometimes held her hand, although she stated that he also hugged other students at school. Petitioner and C would hug and exchange letters at the end of the school day by C's bus, and she would read the notes from him on the bus before putting them in her backpack.

The day after the letters were discovered, Howard County Police Detective Erica Heavner and a partner arrived at the school around 10 a.m. to talk with Mr. M. Mr. M signed a consent form giving police permission to search a desk that was used by Petitioner. Petitioner's desk was grouped together with those of other paraeducators in a pod located in a common area near several classrooms. Although employees can request a key to lock the desk drawers, Petitioner did not do so and his desk drawers were unlocked.[7] The drawers on the right side of the desk were labeled, from top to bottom, "seminars, research data"; "student data"; and "learning, " and a thin drawer in the middle of the desk was marked "utensils desk items." The desk contained various drawings by students, a paraeducator voluntary transfer form, greeting cards, and a cardboard box marked "Christmas lights." Det. Heavner opened the box and discovered numerous pieces of paper stuffed inside. She seized the box and, after obtaining a search warrant, discovered notes and drawings from Steelergirl to Raven-K inside.

C's parents received a call from the school about the first letter on the day it was discovered and met with detectives that same day. After learning about the letter, C's mother searched her daughter's backpack and discovered approximately 18 notes apparently written by Petitioner to C. She found 10 additional letters several weeks later and turned those over to police. The letters were all addressed to Steelergirl and the contents of the letters read as follows:

• "I missed you so much. I hate the weekends because I don't get to see you. Sorry you lost the last game but you are still a winner to me. Your smile brightens my day. You are so beautiful. I just want to hold, hug, and be with you. You are my girl. So special. Do very well on the MSAs. You probably won't see me much, but know that I am always thinking of you. I hold your picture close to my heart all the time. Love and XXXX (kisses), Raven-K. 'U have my heart.'" The contents of this letter was written within a heart-shape. On the back of the paper is a drawing showing what appears to be a male stick figure holding hands with a female stick figure with a heart appearing above their hands that states "RK SG."
• "Here is something sweet for the sweetest girl I know. Can I ask you to be my girl? I love having you in my life. I won't ask you for anything than to just be there for me. I need you in my life and can't live without you. Just be there for me. Have yourself a great weekend and I'll miss you till Monday. M[eye symbol] [heart symbol] B longs 2 U. P.S. When you hug me tight, It's the best part of my day. Only YOU make me feel so special. I hope I make you feel good and special. You are to me. [four heart symbols] 4 ever, Raven-K." On the back of the note, Petitioner wrote: "My heart aches when I am away from you. [drawing of lips] XXXX. These are kisses." The note itself also contains a stick figure drawing of what appears to be a male figure wearing glasses holding hands with a female figure with long hair with a heart appearing above their hands.
• "Things I love." [The remaining content was written within a heart shape.] "God, Music, Family, Life, Fitness, Exercise, Ravens, football, baseball, basketball, Jazz, Piano, Steeler Girl." The words "Steeler Girl" were written at the bottom of the heart and were larger than the other words. "P.S. I hope you don't think I'm weird, but I really do care about you. Raven-K."
• "I liked your outfit today. You always look cute . . . . When you gave me a hug it made my day. My name means 'strong free man.' Let me know what picture you want me to draw. You have become my very best friend. I hope you never forget me. Love you. P.S. Whenever we talk, my heart races a 1, 000 beats per minute. You have won my heart forever. Love, Raven-K."
• "I really missed you over the weekend. The whole weekend I kept thinking about you. Wondering what you were doing. Sorry for being in a funky mood 2day. I have to be honest with you. I am sad because I really love you and I know I'm not supposed to. I'm not some perverted child psycho stalker. I don't think perverted thoughts of you. I just have a deep love and care for you. I keep trying to stop feeling this way about you, but I just can't. I have dreams every night of holding you, you sleeping in my arms. Having belching contests. Arguing over the Ravens and Steelers (they suck suck suck). Then you get real mad and starting beating me up. Then we apologize, hug, and hold hands. When I see you I get so happy, then I get very sad. I can't hold your hand. We can never spend time together. Seeing you go home on the bus is the worst part of my day. I love giving you things because it's the only way I can show you how much I love you. I feel like I'm going crazy. I also heard you have a boyfriend. That has me very depressed. Please don't think of me as some creep or monster. I don't want to lose your respect. I feel like Cullen in the Twilight stories and you are the girl.[8] I have tried to make myself not like you, but too late. I have fallen for you hard. Maybe I do need to go to another school. Just know that I am totally in love with you and will never stop caring for you. I am sorry for feeling this way about you. Please don't think bad of me. Love 4ever, Raven-K. P.S. Tear this up after you read. Tear the other notes too."
•"Your sister told me about you and [another boy at her school]. You could have told me. I won't bother you anymore. Raven-K. [symbol of a frowning face and a faint drawing showing a heart split open as if broken]"
•"I hope your day went well today. I missed you so much when I left early. I get so sad when I am away from you. Also I am sorry for picking you up too high. I never want to scare you and will not do it again. You mean so much to me. I think about you and keep your picture close to my heart. Anyway, here is . . . [This portion of the letter is set off from the rest, with two squiggly lines surrounding it.] My Dream. We went to the movies to see Twilight Eclipse. You sat in my lap and put your arms around my neck and kissed me on my cheek. THEN FELL SLEEP! [symbol of a face with its mouth open] I tried to wake you but you snored LOUD in my face. So I kissed you 7 times on your forhead and once on your lips. You woke up and we watched the rest of the movie with you in my arms and your head on my chest. [The Dream story ends here.] Have a great day and know you can ask me for ANYTHING you want or need. I deeply love you. [heart symbol with a smiley face inside] Love, Raven-K."
• "Have a great weekend. I want you to know that you can be honest with me and tell me anything. I will always care about you. I have heard some things, but then again I don't pay attention to rumor. Just know that I will always be here for you. Know that I will never hurt you nor let anybody else hurt you. My love and care for you runs deep. If you want a boyfriend or like someone, I will understand. I want you to be happy regardless. I won't lie, but it will hurt me to my heart, but again I want you happy. Always write to me. I am here to listen to you and understand. I love you always and unconditionally. [heart with a smiley face] Just know that love U 4ever, Raven-K."
• Petitioner spelled out C's name in a heart and used the initials of her first and last name to give her compliments, including that she was "beautiful" and "your are my heart."
• "I like seeing you smile at me again. It really makes my day. I hope your day was a happy one too." [Petitioner spelled out C's first name and gave her compliments based on the initials of her name, including that she was his "only love."] "Thanks for making me smile again. [smiley face] I don't ever want to lose you again. Yours forever, Raven-K. Olive you."
• "Sorry for not coming to the Valentine Day Party. I was really sick on Friday with 103 degree temperature. I liked my Valentine Day note. You are very special and my heart will always be with you. If you ever need anything please tell me. If you are ever sad, think sweet thoughts. [smiley face] I really missed you over the weekend. [frowning face] We have to play basketball so that I can see if I can beat you. Love you, forever [Petitioner spelled out C's initials and listed traits based on those letters.] Seriously, You are awesome. Love, Raven-K. [two smiley faces]"
• [This letter is in the shape of a cut-out heart.] "I want you to have an awesome weekend and know I love you so much. Only your hugs can melt my heart. When you hold my hand it makes my day. Can you be my sweetheart forever? Also, can you not ever stop giving me hugs? I will always be here for you. If we are to ever part, promise that we will find each other. Love you, forever Raven-K."
• "A Snow Poem. When the weather outside is frightful. Being at home is so delightful. But it makes me miss you so. When school is closed because of the snow. YOU R SNOW BEAUTIFUL. [smiley face and drawing of a snowman] Olive [C's name] Raven-K. [heart]"
• "How are you today? I always miss you at the end of school. But when I close my eyes I always see your face. You are so pretty and smart. These are the reasons I think you are wonderful and care about you so much. 1. You are so beautiful. 2. You are a good person. 3. [Describes her hair] 4. You are intelligent. 5. You like to crack jokes and have sense of humor. 6. Even when you are mad I think you are so pretty. 7. You like music. 8. You like being different. I love being different too. That is why I am an artist. Anyway just know that right now I am missing you and I keep you close to my [heart with smiley face]. Love, ...

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