Where is the fugitive dentist?

How does a convicted rapist manage to pack his wife and five children and many of their belongings into a van, and seemingly vanish off the face of the Earth? That’s a question that lots of people in Montgomery County should be asking this morning the 66th day since Dr. David Fuster, a Bethesda dentist, was convicted of raping a 15-year-old patient in his office.

On May 7, Fuster was convicted in Montgomery County Circuit Court in the October 2001 attack on the teen-ager. After sedating her with laughing gas, Fuster molested the girl. In addition, at least four other teen-age girls have come forward with similar allegations against Fuster. On May 8, Fuster pulled his five children out of the Montgomery County Public Schools and skipped town, apparently unbeknownst to school officials. Fuster’s own attorneys said they only learned he had fled after failing to reach him in order to fit him with an electronic monitoring bracelet. He was scheduled to be sentenced July 10. After police found packed boxes inside Fuster’s home, a warrant was issued for his arrest, but Fuster was long gone.

How did Fuster manage to stay out of jail after being convicted on charges that could land him in prison for up to 55 years? The most critical factor, State’s Attorney Douglas Gansler told us, was a plea agreement that he was reluctantly forced to agree to with Fuster’s lead attorney,Barry Helfand. Critical evidence was late in coming back from the crime lab, putting prosecutors in the untenable position of going to trial without it or delaying Fuster’s trial beyond the 180-limit, as provided by Maryland’s speedy trial law. So, Mr. Gansler was forced to make a deal in order to get Mr. Helfand to waive the speedy-trial requirement. The agreement allowed Fuster to remain free pending sentencing, and off he went.

By any measure, Fuster is an extremely desperate man. Mr. Gansler informs us that, when he left town, he forfeited his $100,000 bond and also lost his Damascus home, which is believed to be worth $1.6 million. We’ll say it again: The Fuster case demonstrates why people convicted of serious crimes like rape must stay behind bars pending sentencing. While we understand thatBarry Helfand and other defense attorneys try to strike deals for their clients, they need to understand that they have a responsibility to the public as well. The opportunity to skip town and prey upon more unsuspecting victims is simply too great.