Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Trial of former school board member hits another roadblock

Late transcript spurs judge to bar testimony from five witnesses, hindering prosecutors' case

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Prosecutors decided Wednesday not to proceed with the indictment against former Prince George's County school board member Nathaniel B. Thomas after the circuit court judge barred testimony from five key witnesses.

Thomas' lawyer, Bruce L. Marcus of Greenbelt, argued Wednesday that prosecutors introduced a transcript of an interview with the alleged victim Tuesday, only one day before the trial was to start.

In criminal trials, defense lawyers usually argue they need reasonable time to review all evidence introduced against their clients.

“I have not had an opportunity to go through this with my client like I normally would,“ Marcus said.

As a result, Judge Sean D. Wallace said he would not allow testimony from any people in the transcript, which included the alleged victim, his parents and Superintendent John E. Deasy.

Prosecutors said they could not pursue the case without the witnesses.

Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for county state's attorney Glenn F. Ivey, said prosecutors would take the case to the Court of Special Appeals to challenge the judge's decision to bar the testimony and to secure a new trial date.

‘‘I disagree with this ruling strongly. In our view there was no prejudice to the defense. This is a very draconian sanction the judge put in place. I think this case absolutely should proceed,” Ivey said.

Thomas, 26, was elected to an at-large school board seat in November 2006, and was accused early last year of taking an 18-year-old student on a convention trip to San Francisco without permission from the student's parents. An investigation into the trip revealed the alleged relationship in 2005 with a different student, who was 15 at the time.

Thomas denied he had a sexual relationship with a minor. He was charged May 4 and resigned from office in June.

Thomas' trial was initially slated for Nov. 26 but Marcus pointed out at Prince George's County Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro on the day jury selection was to begin that prosecutors filed an incorrect address for the location where Thomas allegedly had sex with the student he taught while at Forestville Military Academy.

The judge threw out the case then, and Thomas was re-indicted and arraigned Nov. 30. The trial was then set for Dec. 5, but Thomas argued that he needed more time to get money for a new lawyer and the trial was delayed until Wednesday.

Marcus, continuing to represent Thomas, also argued Wednesday that the short time between the arraignment and the Dec. 5 trial date violated Thomas' right to find an attorney and prepare for the court case.

Prosecutors said the trial was set for Dec. 5 because Thomas' right to a speedy trial was in danger. A trial must begin within 180 days of indictments, according to court rules. If the trial were not held before Dec. 8, prosecutors said, those rules would have been violated.

“What happened here seemed to disenfranchise Mr. Thomas,“ Marcus told Judge Sean D. Wallace. “Mr. Thomas was put in a very unfortunate position. ... The defendant ends up being on the short end of the stick.“

William D. Missouri, the county's administrative judge, was brought in to clarify speedy trial rules. Missouri said since the trial was delayed until this month, Thomas had time to prepare for the case.

“If there was a prejudice here, I think it was in favor of the defendant and not against him,“ Missouri said.

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