Little effect expected on criminal proceedings

April 16, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

Indicted Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's suicide attempt could hamper plea negotiations, delay her pending criminal trial and make selecting a jury more difficult. But it probably won't have a major impact on court proceedings, legal experts said yesterday.

She had been scheduled for rearraignment May 2, and that hearing is likely to be most immediately affected. The hearing was scheduled after she appeared in court last month to hear the theft and misconduct charges against her and enter an innocent plea.

Jack Rubin, a Baltimore defense attorney, said the hearing will almost certainly be postponed in the wake of Mrs. McLean's suicide attempt Thursday night.

"A rearraignment to me is a clear signal of a [changed] plea and some type of plea bargain," he said. "[The suicide attempt] could derail it. It could delay it. It could change it. It could be any of the above."

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said yesterday that he still was preparing for Mrs. McLean's scheduled June 8 trial. She is accused of authorizing $25,189 in payments to a fictitious consultant called Michele McCloud and a fictitious organization. She also is charged with misconduct in office in an alleged attempt to arrange a $1 million city lease for a family-owned building.

William H. Murphy Jr., one of her lawyers, would not discuss any potential impact on the criminal proceedings.

Michael E. Kaminkow, president of the Maryland Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, said he doubted the suicide attempt would put any pressure on prosecutors to resolve the case with a sweetened plea offer.

"My sense is it will have very little impact on the special prosecutor's office. Mr. Montanarelli and his staff are much too experienced and savvy to be swayed by something like this," Mr. Kaminkow said. He said that the suicide attempt might delay the trial if Mrs. McLean is unprepared to proceed for medical reasons.

Lawyers interviewed yesterday said that any mental problems Mrs. McLean may suffer don't seem to approach the standard necessary for her to plead insanity or incompetence to stand trial.

To prove incompetence, Mr. Kaminkow said, Mrs. McLean would have to show that she is unable to understand the charges against her and to assist in her defense -- tough standards to meet.

Lawyers interviewed dismissed the suggestion that the latest publicity might trigger a defense request to move a trial out of Baltimore. The city, they noted, is generally considered the jurisdiction in which defendants fare best before a jury.

In any event, the suicide attempt is unlikely to surface as evidence during a trial, the lawyers said.

Terrence P. Farley, an officer in the National District Attorneys Association, said, "It shouldn't have any relevance unless they come up with some kind of medical or diminished capacity defense."

Richard M. Karceski, a Towson defense lawyer, said it would be dangerous for either side to raise the issue before a jury.

"People could take this one way or another," he said. "They could feel sorry for her and give her an edge, or they could see it as indicative of a guilty conscience."

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