Activist accused of assaulting reporter is granted jury trial

April 24, 1994|By Sonya Senkowsky | Sonya Senkowsky,Capital News Service

FREDERICK -- A community activist charged with assault and battery for allegedly "forcefully" bumping into a Frederick newspaper reporter at a public meeting has been granted a jury trial.

Francis William Ashton, 43, who leads the call for citizen representation on a Frederick airport commission, said he asked April 7 for the jury trial because he believes the reporter injured his reputation.

Frederick County District Court Judge James F. Strine granted the request.

"I'm just tired of this thing because everyone's trying it before it gets tried," Mr. Ashton said.

He has been "constantly berated" by phone calls from reporters across the state since Frederick News-Post reporter Jessica Gregg spoke to a Capital News Service reporter in February, Mr. Ashton said.

Ms. Gregg, 23, a graduate of Westminster High, filed charges against Mr. Ashton in November for "offensively" bumping her several times "with great force" after a Nov. 4 meeting at City Hall.

L Prosecutors charged him criminally with assault and battery.

In February, Ms. Gregg said she believed that Mr. Ashton was trying to intimidate her because she didn't write about him in an airport commission article. In court papers, she said Mr. Ashton followed her to public events and made threats to her co-workers.

He told a city alderman he was going to "get her," Ms. Gregg said in court papers. He told an editor at the paper that he was going to "bring her down," she said in an interview.

Mr. Ashton denies this.

"I have never done anything to make her afraid," he said. In an earlier interview, he said Ms. Gregg had "jeopardized" airport commission plans, but he did not elaborate.

Mr. Ashton's attorney, Richard Bricken, said the press paid too much attention to a "quite routine" case.

Mr. Ashton "feels as though [his] criticism of the reporter led to a charge [against] him," Mr. Bricken said.

He said his "overwrought" client wanted to clear his name.

Deputy State's Attorney Julie Stevenson said Mr. Ashton was "entitled to a jury trial," but would not further discuss the case before the trial.

Ms. Gregg could not be reached for comment late last week.

Her newspaper, a Capital News Service subscriber, has not written about the case. But News-Post Managing Editor Michael Powell said he thought the paper would probably cover the trial.

"It's an interesting case, and . . . it sounds like the kind of thing we would want to cover," he said.

Mr. Ashton is scheduled to be arraigned in Circuit Court Aug. 15. A trial date has not been set.

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