The Frightening World of John Merzbacher

By Peter Hermann (Baltimore Sun, 3/23/2012)

Even on his way to 4 life sentences "Merz" continues to smirk.

With new talk that convicted child rapist John Joseph Merzbacher could regain his freedom because defense attorneys failed to disclose a plea offer back in the 1990s, let’s take a moment to review the sordid history of this case.

The Sun’s Tricia Bishop reports on a petition drive to keep the now 70-year-old behind bars. TwoU.S. Supreme Court cases decided this week have bolstered Merzbacher’s claims that he was wronged. Had he known about the plea deal, he says, he might’ve taken it and would already have served the 10 years put on the table.

Instead, he was convicted and sent to prison for four life terms.

Here is some background on Merzbacher, who Tricia wrote had been accused of terrorizing students at a Baltimore Catholic school in the 1970s and convicted two decades later of six counts of child rape and sexual abuse in connection with the allegations.

(jumping ahead a few paragraphs… BML)

Within a few months, the eighth-grade class at Catholic Community Middle School in South Baltimore had a new English teacher.

And, as he had at Highlandtown Elementary, Mr. Merzbacher quickly endeared himself to students. A pipe-smoking jokester with an easy manner and a fondness for rock ‘n’ roll, he brought fun and games into his classroom.

In one corner, he set up a traffic light that flashed red and yellow and green. At the back of the room, he plugged in a stereo and spun hard rock records by The Who.

In one song by the band that Mr. Merzbacher played repeatedly for his students, the lyrics were laced with tortured yearning.

“I know there’s a place you’ve walked where love falls from the trees,” came the words from the classroom stereo. “My heart is like a broken cup, I only feel right on my knees. I spit out like a sewer hole and still receive your kiss.

“How can I measure up to anyone now after such love as this.”

Students said Mr. Merzbacher would assign them to write an essay about the song.

The next year, the night that his students received confirmation — the Catholic sacrament that signaled their entry into spiritual adulthood — Mr. Merzbacher took two of his students on a high-speed ride through the woods near Essex. Empty beer cans rolled on the floor.

“Open the glove box,” one of the students recalled him saying. “Give me my gun.”

“He took the gun out and just started blasting away at stop signs,” said Steve Kazmierski, now 33. “There we were driving down these dark roads, all drunk, shooting off a gun.”

At school, Mr. Merzbacher kept the gun in his desk drawer, often brandishing it in class, students said. At least two of them recount the teacher pointing the weapon at them and threatening to kill them if they ever revealed his secrets.

“In the mornings, he would send me over to the utility closet to make coffee for him,” said a 32-year-old painter who has testified before a grand jury in the case. “Then, he’d come in behind me, close the door and rape me. Day after day. For three years. After the first few times, I would just go numb.”

Continue reading “The Frightening World of John Merzbacher” at The Baltimore Sun.

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