"There is possibility
and hope - I believe in it, it's what I'm about."
Sr. Muriel Curran, SSND
Nun offers mercy, but robber gets
Sister's kind words prompt tears in county courtroom
By Jennifer McMenamin
May 1, 2008
Sister Muriel Curran faced the man who shoved her to the ground and ripped away
her purse three years ago. She quoted Scripture. She thanked him for the guilty
plea that spared her a trial. And she asked a Baltimore County judge not to send
him to prison.
"There is possibility and hope - I believe in it, it's what I'm about - in
rehabilitation and a future," the 78-year-old nun said yesterday, explaining
that she has difficulty believing in a penal system that sometimes leaves
criminals worse off than before they went to prison. "I've taught too many boys
in my life not to believe that growth and change can take place."
Police officers waiting for other cases listened in astonishment.
The defendant's aunt and grandmother wept openly. Even strangers sitting in the
courtroom sat spellbound and dabbed at their eyes. The veteran prosecutor
handling the case fought back tears and later characterized the scene as "the
single most profound thing I have ever heard in a courtroom."
And the convicted robber, Charles R. Dodson, 22, hung his bald and tattooed head
as he tearfully offered apologies and begged for the forgiveness that the nun
had already granted.
Asked after the hearing what had inspired her unusual approach to the man who
left her with broken bones and deep bruises, unable to fully raise one arm and
incapable of living on her own any longer, Sister Curran answered simply.
"The Gospel," she said. "You hear that cliche - 'What would Jesus do?' - but if
you live it, you've got to believe it."
The prosecutor and even the defendant's lawyer had asked for a sentence of three
to eight years in the robbery.
On April 27, 2005, Sister Curran and another nun were returning to their
apartment on Nunley Drive in Parkville about 10:30 p.m. As they searched for a
parking spot, they saw two young men talking on the sidewalk near their
building, according to charging documents.
Minutes later, after one of the men had asked for directions and as Sister
Curran held the door for her friend, who was carrying luggage, someone shoved
the nun and snatched her purse. The robbers made off with the handbag, which
contained $70 in a birthday card.
Sister Curran broke five ribs and tore her rotator cuff in the fall. Her face
and arm were badly bruised. A gash above her eye required stitches.
"My right arm is permanently disabled. The doctors can do nothing," Sister
Curran said yesterday, explaining that the injuries have effectively made the
defendant a permanent part of her life.
The injuries forced Sister Curran - the daughter of a Boston-area police officer
- to move from her apartment to the School Sisters of Notre Dame's Motherhouse
and to cut back on her ministry work, said Leo Ryan Jr., the Baltimore County
deputy state's attorney who prosecuted the case. Although Sister Curran spent
part of her career teaching, she devoted a great deal of time to a retreat
ministry, the prosecutor said.
More than a year after the attack, a suspect in an unrelated case told police
that he knew about a robbery that had netted a birthday card with cash in it.
Further investigation led police to Dodson, who had moved to West Virginia.
There, in the city of Fairmont, "he has done a great deal of growing," defense
attorney James Dills told the judge.
Dodson, who had been a heavy marijuana user and convicted thief as a teenager in
Baltimore County, earned a GED, got a full-time job as a server at Pizza Hut and
began studying to become certified in glass customization, Dills said. He moved
in with his girlfriend and had a baby girl.
Still, the robbery of "the old lady," as he described it to friends, stayed with
"During my positive voyage, I always had that night in my head in the back -
lurking, hiding, waiting for the truth to reveal itself one day," Dodson said in
It caught up with him in September, when he was locked up and charged with
robbery, second-degree assault and theft.
Yesterday, on the morning he was scheduled to go to trial, Dodson pleaded guilty
to one count of robbery. The decision spared the nun the trip to the witness
stand that she said she would have dreaded.
Reading from a card, Sister Curran quoted a letter in the Bible from the Prophet
Jeremiah: "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope."
Turning to face Dodson, she said, "That is my hope for you, Charles. I would
like to give that to you."
She reached out to hand him the card. She then extended her arm again. And
although the sheriff's deputies assigned to the county's courtrooms usually
prevent anyone other than defense attorneys from touching a defendant, no one
interfered as the snowy-haired nun in the navy suit and white blouse shook the
hand of the tattooed man in a dirty white T-shirt who had robbed her three years
In announcing his sentence, Baltimore County Circuit Judge H. Patrick Stringer
Jr. said he believed Dodson's account that he did not intend to hurt the nun,
"but when you push down a 75-year-old woman, something bad is going to happen."
Stringer sentenced Dodson to 10 years in prison, suspending all but 4 1/2 years
and ordering him to serve three years of probation upon his release.
The judge explained that he, like Sister Curran, believes in rehabilitation. But
he said he also believes in punishment.
Copyright © 2008, The Baltimore Sun