In June 2022, William Brown Jr. married a woman at a church in Baltimore County.

Less than three months later, he married another woman, with her grandmother officiating the ceremony.

But Brown’s first wife later caught wind of the second marriage. His decision would not only land him in the doghouse but the courthouse facing felony prosecution.

Brown, 53, of Essex, recently pleaded guilty in Baltimore Circuit Court to bigamy — the crime of entering into a marriage while already married to another person — in exchange for probation before judgment. Circuit Judge Melissa K. Copeland then struck the guilty finding and placed him on two years’ supervised probation, during which time he cannot have any contact with his first wife, except for “legal purposes.”

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The situation that he put himself in was uncommon, but not unprecedented. According to data from the Maryland Judiciary, there were 16 cases filed statewide containing at least one count of bigamy between Jan. 1, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2023.

“It’s not prosecuted much, but it’s a serious crime,” said James Sweeting III, Brown’s attorney, who added that it was the first bigamy case that he’s handled in his 37 years of practicing law. The charge carries a maximum sentence of nine years in prison.

“It probably should’ve stayed a civil matter, but it didn’t,” he added. “They’re free to charge it.”

Marriage is the sole province of the state, which grants people rights and responsibilities under that special status. That’s different than a contract between two private parties, said Margaret Johnson, a professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law and director of the Bronfein Family Law Clinic, where students represent people in matters including divorces, annulments and child custody.

“Our entire democracy is built on the fact that these nuclear families are the building blocks of our society,” Johnson said. “You will see that language in cases.”

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If someone were to marry a second person, Johnson said, “it’s undercutting this view of what creates stability that we rely on to create helpful, beneficial citizens.”

Johnson said she recalls one case that the clinic has taken on involving bigamy in 18 years. The second marriage is void from the beginning, she said, but people can seek an annulment to receive property and spousal support.

Maryland, she said, is “very pro-marriage.” Johnson noted that the lawmakers made sweeping changes to divorce laws in 2023.

The following account comes from court documents:

The saga began on June 18, 2022, when Brown married his first wife at a church in Baltimore County. Unbeknownst to her, just 73 days later, Brown married his second wife at a church in Baltimore County, too.

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“I was a member of the NCAA: No clue at all,” said the Rev. William Bailey, who officiated the first wedding.

The Rev. Cassie Lofton, who officiated the second wedding, also expressed shock.

“I am a woman of God. I am a pastor,” Lofton said. “And I never would have married anyone if they were already married.”

Brown could not be reached for comment. His first wife requested anonymity, citing concerns about her employment, while his second wife could also not be reached for comment.

On Oct. 8, 2022, 39 days after marrying for a second time, Brown and his first wife traveled to Montego Bay, Jamaica, a major port for cruise ships that features luxury resorts and hotels, and gathered for a church service on the beach.

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She reported that her husband told her when they first started dating that he remained friends with the mother of his child and co-parented their teenage son. But Brown’s first wife, though, noticed that his behavior started to change a few months after they got back from Jamaica.

Then, she caught glimpses of text messages between her husband and the mother of his child, whose number was saved under “Q.” Brown offered assurances that nothing was going on between them.

But Brown’s first wife was not satisfied with that explanation. She went to the courthouse in Baltimore and discovered that her husband had married the mother of his child.

Brown, she reported, insisted that his name and signature had been forged. But she kept confronting him with additional information.

He eventually confessed that he married the mother of his child “because she was just a friend to him.”

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On Aug. 8, 2023, Brown’s first wife filed an application for statement of charges against him. A district court commissioner issued a summons on one count of bigamy.

The chief of the Special Victims Unit in the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, Jesse Halvorsen, said he later reviewed the case and authorized the prosecution to proceed.

He examined the matter to make sure that the elements of the crime had been met, Halvorsen said. He said he also looked at whether it was a good case and worth prosecuting.

Halvorsen said: “The public interest is that it is a fraud on the clerk of the court and on the community when you marry a second time when you’re not legally divorced.

“When you apply for marriage license in Maryland, and in almost every other jurisdiction, one of the things that you certify on your application is that you’re not legally married at the time you’re applying for a new marriage license.”

In general, Halvorsen said, the bigamy cases that he’s seen in his career involve people who are married but hold themselves out to be single or divorced and “sort of have painted themselves into a corner.” So they go through with a second marriage, he said, even though they knew or should have known that it was not legally valid.

During the court proceedings, Assistant State’s Attorney Erica Schultz said she conducted extensive legal research and determined that the case had been correctly filed in the city because the second marriage license was issued in Baltimore.

Meanwhile, Brown’s first wife has filed for divorce. The woman checked off a box for adultery and added the following in blue pen:

“Committed bigamy.”

She then listed the number for his criminal case.

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