Court sets new hearing for day-care operator's appeal

October 09, 1990|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

The sexual-assault case of former Clarksville day-care operator Sandra Craig is to be heard a second time -- in January -- by the Maryland Court of Appeals.

In overruling a previous state appellate court decision last spring, the U.S. Supreme Court said that the state Court of Appeals should re-examine the Craig case using more narrow guidelines.

A Howard County Circuit Court jury had convicted Craig in April 1987 of sexually molesting a 6-year-old pupil at the former Craig's Country Pre-School.

The state's highest court overturned the ruling in 1989, saying that the Circuit Court trial judge improperly allowed four child witnesses to testify via closed-circuit television outside the courtroom instead of requiring them to confront Craig.

It said Judge Raymond J. Kane erroneously relied only on the testimony of therapists that the children would face severe emotional distress if forced to testify in court. It said Kane should have interviewed them to determine whether they were able to testify without closed-circuit testimony.

But the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last June 27 that people charged with child abuse are not always entitled to face-to-face confrontations with their young accusers.

The majority opinion issued more strict guidelines for determining whether closed-circuit testimony can be used, and sent the case back to the Court of Appeals to determine whether Kane followed state guidelines when he allowed closed-circuit testimony.

Gary E. Bair, an assistant attorney general, said the new hearing will take place on one of four dates -- Jan. 3, Jan. 4, Jan. 7 or Jan. 8. He said Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who argued the case before the Supreme Court, is likely to represent the state before the Court of Appeals.

Bair said the attorney general's office must submit supplemental briefs to the court by Nov. 9 and that the defense must file by Dec. 10.

Bair said the Supreme Court's ruling virtually assured that the appellate court would uphold Craig's conviction.

"The Supreme Court, without expressly saying it, suggested that the judge did use the proper procedures in reaching his decision," he said.

But M. Cristina Gutierrez, co-counsel for Craig, said she was optimistic of gaining a favorable decision again because the appellate court's unanimous decision of 1989 was based primarily on Maryland law rather than the U.S. Sixth Amendment, which gives defendants a right to face their accusers.

"We got a strongly worded opinion last time," Gutierrez said. "The Court of Appeals is free to utterly disregard a Supreme Court opinion."

She said Maryland case law requires judges to rely on more than just expert testimony before deciding whether a child is able to testify before a defendant.

Craig, who remains free on bail pending the appellate court's ruling, was sentenced to 10 years in prison following her conviction. She currently lives in New Jersey.

She also was indicted on charges that she abused 12 other children but has not been trial in connection with those charges.

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