Rollins found guilty of indecent exposure
State’s attorney’s future uncertain with conviction
— Cecil County State’s Attorney Ellis Rollins III was found guilty of one count each of indecent exposure and disorderly conduct Friday, after a jury deliberated about four hours over the bizarre case stemming from incidents on June 21 and June 22 in Ocean City.
Rollins, 61, also was ac-
quitted of two identical charges relating to the first day of the alleged incidents, but the jury, which consisted of 10 men and two women, returned guilty verdicts in relation to second day’s incidents – which were witnessed by additional parties, including two police officers using binoculars.
Cecil County’s top prosecutor looked unfazed as the jury foreman returned the acquittal verdicts, but then lowered his head as the guilty ones were announced. Moments later, after taking his seat at the defense table, Rollins leaned forward with his hands to his face.
Rollins, who had opted not to testify in his own defense, declined to comment on the guilty verdicts and on his professional plans in light of them, explaining that his sentencing is pending.
He did, however, divulge the jury’s guilty-acquittal tally that was reported to the judge, prosecution and defense about three hours into deliberation mid-Friday afternoon — when jurors returned to the courtroom and informed Worcester County Circuit Court Judge Brian Shockley that they were deadlocked on three of the four charges.
At that point, according to Rollins, it was 7 to 5 in favor of acquittal on the June 22 indecent exposure charge; 7 to 5 in favor of guilty on the June 22 disorderly conduct charge; 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal on the June 21 indecent exposure charge and 12 to 0 in favor of acquittal on the June 21 disorderly conduct charge.
The judge instructed the jurors to continue their deliberation and sent them back to the jury room. Approximately an hour later, the jury returned to the courtroom with its unanimous verdicts, two guilty and two not guilty.
This marks the end of a disastrous year for Rollins, who has served as Cecil County’s elected state’s attorney since 2011. Rollins, who was the presumptive favorite for an open Cecil
County Circuit Court judgeship, now faces a possible punishment of up to three years in prison and, or, a $1,000 fine for indecent exposure and up to 60 days in jail and, or, a $500 fine for disorderly conduct.
While Shockley wanted to move to sentencing after receiving the verdict Friday afternoon, both the defense and prosecution said they were unprepared for that proceeding. Sentencing will be set for a date sometime after December.
About a week before the incidents in question occurred, Rollins had made the shortlist for the county judgeship, which both his father and grandfather had held. Days after Rollins’ arrest, Gov. Larry Hogan expressed misgivings about potentially appointing an embattled Rollins to the bench. A few days after that, the state’s attorney dropped out of contention in order to focus on his defense in the indecent exposure case. Hogan later appointed William W. Davis Jr., an Elkton defense attorney, to that judgeship.
While Rollins has not resigned from his post as state’s attorney, he has not prosecuted any cases since his arrest and instead has served only in an administrative capacity. His convictions could lead to removal from office, however, under the Maryland Constitution. Four key eyewitnesses On Thursday, four Pennsylvania women testified that, from their adjacent hotel, they witnessed Rollins suggestively dance naked and masturbate directly in front of the sliding glass door of his high-rise Ocean City hotel on several occasions on June 21 and June 22.
Those four witnesses, who are in their 50s, contended that Rollins intentionally exhibited himself to them, appearing at his sliding glass door within minutes after they would enter the balcony of their hotel some 175 feet away, and they alleged he made eye contact with them numerous times. The women did not know Rollins.
Moreover, two of those women testified that they saw Rollins and his wife, Holly, engage in sexual intercourse in front of that sliding glass door of their 10th-floor room at the Clar- ion Resort Fountainebleau Hotel at 10100 Coastal Highway in Ocean City.
Karen Lynn, of Harrisburg, Pa., testified that her sister, Lisa Smith, also of Harrisburg, and two of their friends witnessed Rollins dance naked — using a cellphone as a prop and pantomiming “humping” the couch at one point — and masturbate while they were trying to enjoy the beach view from their 12th-floor room at their adjacent Atlantis Condominium.
The women were in Ocean City that week for their annual “girls weekend” while Rollins was there for a Maryland State’s Attorneys Association convention, which ran from June 20 through noon June 22, some four hours before police arrested Rollins at the hotel and later released him.
From their balcony, Lynn and Smith saw Rollins nude inside his room in the early afternoon of June 21, but they found it amusing because they concluded Rollins had just come out of the shower naked and was unaware he could be seen, according to their testimony.
“We thought it was a pure, honest mistake,” Smith testified.
However, moments later, Rollins “started coming closer to the window and performed some kind of dance,” one in which he bent over to show his bare rear end, squatted and performed other moves, the women testified.
Then Rollins “opened up the screen door, so there was only glass between us and him,” and, as a result, they could see his penis, according to the sisters, who had come to the hotel a day earlier than their two friends, who witnessed only the June 22 incidents.
“I was like, ‘What the hell is going on? He was looking right up at us. He made eye contact several times,’” Lynn testified.
Lynn testified that Rollins moved “right up to the edge of the slider door and was masturbating,” prompting them to call the Clarion hotel to complain. The episode they witnessed lasted approximately 15 minutes, according to Lynn.
About 30 minutes later, however, the second episode occurred and played out in similar fashion, according to the sisters, who estimated that Rollins appeared at his sliding glass door “within five minutes” after they had returned to their balcony area.
Rollins later had sex with his wife in front of the sliding glass door that afternoon, and more incidents of Rollins dancing naked and masturbating occurred during the daylight hours of June 22, according to the women.
At one point during her two-hour-long testimony, Lynn turned her head and looked at Rollins at the defense tab as she tearfully told him, “You’re just sickening ... I have nightmares because of you.” Lynn also told Rollins that she “argues” with her husband because the alleged incidents that she witnessed has been a main topic of conversation for her.
Smith spoke haltingly for a moment as she described the first alleged incident of masturbation that she witnessed.
The other two women — Nancy Schrey and Gloria Lyn Rowe — gave similar accounts from the witness stand. Those women testified that they saw Rollins masturbate four times on June 22 and that a naked dance or a series of poses preceded that activity.
“It was almost like ritualist,” Rowe testified.
Rowe noted that Rollins engaged in the activity inside his room, directly in front of the sliding glass door separating the interior from a tiny, triangular balcony outside. “He was as close to that line as you could be,” Rowe testified, telling jurors, “I saw Mr. Rollins look directly at my eyes, not me, but my eyes.”
At the request of prosecutors, two of the women stepped down from the witness stand during their testimonies and demonstrated the “dance” in front of jurors.
After lodging at least one complaint to hotel management, Lynn, using a digital camera with a zoom lens, took photos of Rollins during his episodes for proof, according to the women’s testimony. The state entered those photos into evidence.
Worcester County State’s Attorney Beau H. Oglesby, who had filed the charges against Rollins, told jurors in his closing argument that the photos taken by the women clearly show Rollins dancing naked and masturbating.
“It is absolute corroboration of the testimony the four women gave you. The photos show him doing precisely what they said he had been doing. He did them (the acts) in such a manner it was open to the pub- lic. Those acts were done feet and even inches of the threshold,” Oglesby told jurors as he held up a photo, then another and another so they could see. “What’s most disturbing is that, during these acts, Mr. Rollins is making eye contact with them.”
The head of security at the Atlantis, Michelle Jones, called police on the afternoon of June 22 after going to the women’s room and observing Rollins returning to the sliding glass door and masturbating within moments after she arrived to investigate, she testified.
Jones went to that room because Lynn had complained to Atlantis staff, after earlier attempts to alert Clarion staff apparently had failed. Jones had told the women that she needed to witness the alleged conduct for herself before she could take action, she said.
She could not see Rollins at first, Jones said. Following the instruction of the women in that room, she waited by the window and Rollins appeared with nothing but a towel on within two minutes, Jones added. Rollins then dropped the towel and engaged in the activities that the women had described, Jones testified.
Jones told jurors that she was concerned for the guests at the hotel pool below, particularly children.
During cross-examination by Burke, Jones acknowledged that she did not include the part about Rollins masturbating in the statement that she gave investigators shortly after the incident, when, the defense lawyer proffered, her recollection would have been better than now.
One OCPD officer, Sgt. Gregory DeGiovanni, could not see Rollins from nearby Coastal Highway after responding to a complaint about a nude man on the balcony, he testified. When he used his binoculars, however, he spotted Rollins naked near the sliding glass door — but did not witness him conduct any behavior, he told jurors.
“He seemed very casual about standing there,” DeGiovanni testified.
The other responding OCPD officer, Pfc. Kevin Flower, went to the women’s state wit- room at the Atlantis, but, with his naked eyes, he could see only Rollins knees while seated on a couch, he said.
Then Flower covertly moved to another window, as requested by the women who remained on their balcony, and, moments later — this time viewing through binoculars — he saw Rollins appear naked at his sliding glass window, he added. Rollins remained their momentarily but did not engage in any activities, Flower testified.
The officers arrested Rollins shortly thereafter on the 10th floor of the Clarion. Both officers acknowledged that Rollins was “polite” and “compliant.” The defense’s case The defense did not aggressively dispute that Rollins engaged in the activities alleged by the women, beyond his defense attorney, Cullen M. Burke, maintaining during his opening and closing arguments that the 37 photos prosecutors entered into evidence don’t clearly depict what, if anything, Rollins was doing.
The sole defense witness was Rollins’ wife, Holly, who acknowledged that she and Rollins did have sex on a couch in front of the sliding glass door on the afternoon of June 21 and that Rollins had masturbated at some point during that encounter.
Holly Rollins also testified that, two days earlier, she had moved the couch from its original spot and positioned it near the sliding glass window so they would have a better view of the ocean. She was oblivious to the adjacent hotel, Holly Rollins testified.
In addition, she testified that their cell phones were in a charger plugged into an outlet near the sliding glass doors and that, consequently, they frequently went their to make and receive phone calls and text messages.
Burke, who had described Rollins and his wife as “still newlyweds” after six years of marriage, told jurors that it wouldn’t be uncommon for them to walk around naked inside their home or hotel room.
Holly Rollins testified that there were times during their stay when her husband was alone in their hotel room.
Before Holly Rollins took the stand Friday morning, the judge advised her that she could possibly “incriminate” herself and could “open yourself up to prosecution in Worcester County.”
Burke contended that whatever activities the women witnessed had taken place in the privacy of Rollins’ hotel room — not in public, specifically on his balcony, as was erroneously reported at the outset.
Burke maintained that the women would not have been able to look Rollins in the eyes, or vice versa, from their respective vantage points more than a halffootball field away from each other.
“For them to claim they made eye contact from that distance is just not believable,” he said.
Burke also questioned how much detail the women could have seen, without the aid of a zoom-lens camera. “Every piece of incriminating evidence is under magnification,” Burke told jurors.
After expressing disbelief that the women were able to zero in on Rollins’ amid all the other rooms on that side of the sprawling Clarion hotel, Burke insisted, “He wasn’t watching them; they were watching him.”
Moreover, Burke asserted that police photos taken during the post-arrest investigation, which Oglesby oversaw on location, did not accurately portray the measured distance of 172 feet between the two hotel rooms in question.
“This room (Rollins’ room) was a speck in their vision. They had the entire Atlantic Ocean, all the way to Spain to look at,” Burke told jurors.
Burke also argued that the women simply could have looked elsewhere. He then suggested that, had the situation involved four men complaining after watching a woman in an adjacent hotel “getting nude, dancing around and fondling her private parts, it would have been handled differently.
“They’d (hotel security) tell them, ‘Find a real problem, buddy,” Burke said.
Burke also maintained that Rollins was farther away from the sliding glass door and that the women were “exaggerating.”