Proposed bill on early prison release for violent sex offenders ignites debate

A bill named after Baltimore tech CEO Pava LaPere, meant to limit early release from prison for convicted violent sex offenders, is moving through the Maryland legislature in Annapolis. It faced pushback in a heated exchange at the latest hearing, while the victim’s mother continued pushing for support.

The bill, Senate Bill 1098, is titled “The Pava Marie LaPere Act.” Caroline LaPere, Pava’s mother, testified in favor of the proposed legislation Tuesday at a hearing before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

“I speak on behalf of myself, my husband, my son. We are committed to turning our horrific tragedy into a positive outcome,” said LaPere.

The bill would prevent those convicted of violent sex crimes like first-degree rape or first-degree sex offenses from earning “good time credits” toward early release from prison. The bill’s sponsor is Senator William Smith Jr., a Democrat from Montgomery County who has supported good time credits in the past. But at Tuesday’s hearing, he seemed to have changed his stance.

“We have to balance rehabilitation and redemption with the superseding weight of public safety. That’s why I propose this change,” said Smith.

Police found LaPere’s body on the roof of her apartment building in Mount Vernon last September. Police arrested Jason Billingsley, who had been released early from prison in 2015 after earning good time credits on a prior sex offense conviction. He has now been indicted for LaPere’s murder.

Also at the hearing in support of the legislation were Baltimore City Councilman Mark Conway, chair of the public safety committee, and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates.

“This bill sends a clear message that sentences for such crimes will be fully served, with serious consequences,” said Bates.

But the hearing grew heated as two public defenders, Gabriel Ellenberger and Marguerite Lanaux, pushed back in a lively exchange with Senator William Folden, a Republican from Frederick County, over sentencing leniency.

More debate is expected before a final vote on the bill, which has the backing of Governor Wes Moore and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott.