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Supreme Court Decision Could Set Convicted Child Rapist Free

BALTIMORE (WJZ)-- His victims thought he was locked up for life, but a decision by the Supreme Court may help unlock his cell. Baltimore school teacher John Merzbacher was convicted of child rape in 1995.

Alex DeMetrick reports his appeal to get out has been strengthened by the high court's decision on Wednesday.

John Merzbacher last walked free before he was sentenced to four life terms in 1995 for repeatedly raping Elizabeth Murphy while she was his student in the 1970s at a Catholic school in Baltimore.

"I'm just grateful for this verdict," Murphy said. "He's off the street and hopefully other children are safe."

Seventeen years later, Murphy is worried that's about to change.

"What we're on the verge of right now is just a grave moral and legal injustice," she said.

It centers on an appeal by Merzbacher that Christina Gutierrez, his lawyer at the time, did not tell him of a potential plea deal of 10 years in prison if he pleaded guilty.

"He's already been in prison well over 10 years, so that would mean, effectively, he'd be released from prison," Henry Mark Stichel, Merzbacher's lawyer, said in an interview in 2008.

It could happen, now that the Supreme Court has ruled in a separate case that defendants must be made aware of any plea deals. But then, Merzbacher would have to change his plea to guilty.

"I didn't do any of these things," he said in 1995. "All I want is a fair trial to clear my name."

"I'd like John Merzbacher to publicly say he raped, brutally raped, continually raped 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds," Murphy said.

Murphy's online petition drive to keep Merzbacher in prison has more than 1,000 names.

"A lot of folks," she said.

That includes Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, who wrote the court: "The abuse and threats have had an enormous impact on these innocent people, first as children, then as adults. I fear that granting Merzbacher's request to be released from custody will cause further harm to these who have already suffered greatly."

"I'm just tired of being tortured by him," Murphy said. "I'm just tired of being tortured by him, and I do not want to see this happen to another child."

Merzbacher is now 70 years old.

His appeal for release will be heard in federal appeals court next month.

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