By Laura Berg
Baltimore Jewish Times
January 13, 2006
On her way home from school Sept. 29, 1969, Esther Lebowitz, a fifth-grade student at the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, stopped by a wholesale tropical fish store on the 5500 block of Park Heights Avenue.
That was the last time anyone saw 11-year-old Esther, the daughter of Abraham and Shulamith Lebowitz, alive. Three days later, Esther's body was found "little more than half a mile from her home," as reported in The Sun.
A jury later found Wayne Stephen Young, 23, owner of the fish store, guilty of homicide and sentenced him to life in prison. Young, who had no previous offenses and pleaded not guilty, hit Esther on the head with a hammer and dumped her body on the side of a road, throwing her bookbag in a dumpster, according to The Sun at that time. The Sun also reported that Esther was raped, a claim that Young was not charged with and continues to deny.
Last Tuesday, Jan. 10, a parole hearing was held for Young at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown. The hearing was officiated by Maryland Parole Commissioners Michael Miller and Candice Beckett. This was Young's 11th parole hearing.
The commissioners interviewed Young, who is incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, for approximately 30 minutes. After about five minutes of deliberation, they told Young that his parole was denied.
Prior to announcing the decision, Commissioner Miller told Young that if he had committed the crime today, he likely would not have even been eligible for parole because of new laws protecting children.
While grilling Young, Commissioner Beckett said to him at one point, "You don't know why you hit her four times?... What price do you think you should pay [for giving] a little girl the death penalty?"
Young has been eligible for parole since 1980. He will be eligible again in Jan. 2009.
At the hearing, Neil Schachter, president of the Northwest Citizens Patrol, represented the Lebowitz family, which moved to Israel shortly after the murder. Mr. Schachter put together a petition and amassed a collection of statements from the community - including letters from Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-3rd) and Mayor Martin O'Malley - opposing Young's release.
"I wouldn't want my worst enemies to be in the same place with this guy," Mr. Schachter told the Baltimore Jewish Times.
At the start of the hearing, Mr. Schachter was given five minutes to speak, and he placed a photograph of the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl in front of the commissioners and read a statement written by Lebowitz's brother, Simon.
"The effects of this crime are still with us in many ways," the letter stated, noting that every time the Lebowitz family hears about a missing child, they experience "a reawakening of our own grief."
Mr. Lebowitz wrote that he and his family have been "shattered," and that the homicide prompted their move to Israel. While saying he recognizes that some people may believe Young has paid his dues during 35 years of incarceration, he wrote that "the idea [that] this monster who crushed my sister's soul" could walk the streets again is overwhelming.
"Would we want him in our neighborhood?" the letter read.
Pikesville resident Bob Steinberg disagrees. Through the Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister League, Mr. Steinberg, a semi-retired businessman, started visiting Young after the convicted murderer was first sentenced. Mr. Steinberg said he has developed a "personal friendship" with Young over the years. He called Young, now 60, a "good conversationalist" who "likes to write science fiction and thinks he's good at it."
Mr. Steinberg said he believes Young is fully rehabilitated, pointing out that he has earned a high school diploma and college degree while in prison, and even worked as a paid employee for around 10 years in the printing industry before the work-release program was suspended. Mr. Steinberg said Young "does not represent any threat to society."
In their meetings over the years, Mr. Steinberg said he and Young have never spoken about Esther's murder.
At the hearing, Young greeted the commissioners with a smile. He said he felt "deep remorse for his actions," and that he "thinks of [the murder] constantly."
"I cry every night," he said. "I apologize to God a thousand times for what happened. The consequences of those actions have not only destroyed [Esther's] life, but mine and my mother's."
Through years of psychiatric treatment in prison, Young said he has explored his behavior and actions, saying that he was living with his mother at the time of the murder and was fighting intensely with her. "I took out my aggression on an innocent victim," he said.
Young told the commissioners that he has been a model prisoner, making all attempts to stay out of trouble. "I spend 22 hours a day in my cell," he said. "I don't even want to be around other prisoners. They have nothing on their mind but trouble."
If released, Young said he just "wants to disappear into obscurity and be a taxpaying citizen."
While being led back to a cell, Young mouthed the words, "Three more years," to Mr. Steinberg, alluding to his next potential parole hearing.