Rape case lawyer seeks to revive 1985 complaint

October 04, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

The attorney for a Columbia man accused of raping his estranged wife told a judge yesterday that he wants to discredit her testimony by using a 9-year-old rape complaint she filed against another man in a case that was never prosecuted.

John Harris, an Ellicott City defense lawyer, told Circuit Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr. that he has witnesses willing to testify that the woman fabricated the 1985 report, which was filed in River Forest, Ill.

Mr. Harris contended that similarities in the two cases -- both allege the woman was raped by a Hispanic man in her bedroom -- cast doubt on the veracity of the woman's claims that she was attacked by her husband.

"Credibility is the key issue in this case," Mr. Harris said. "This [report] is evidence that goes straight to the credibility of the complaining witness."

Judge Sybert did not issue a ruling on whether Mr. Harris can use the report, although he acknowledged that defense attorneys are permitted to challenge the credibility of prosecution witnesses.

The judge deferred the ruling to give the prosecution time to bring the detective who handled the August 1985 case to court to testify in support of the woman's report. The trial was rescheduled to Oct. 17.

Kate O'Donnell, senior assistant state's attorney, argued that the case was not prosecuted because the woman decided against proceeding -- not because her accusations were unfounded.

Ms. O'Donnell asked Judge Sybert to prohibit Mr. Harris from using the report. "I think this matter will only be confusing and prejudicial to the jury," she said.

The 1985 incident occurred before the couple was married.

The woman was attending a seminar at a college near Chicago when she was attacked, the prosecutor said.

The defendant's name in the current case is being withheld to protect the identity of the alleged victim.

The man is charged with first-degree rape, second-degree rape, assault with intent to rape, assault, battery, a sexual offense and a weapons violation in the Nov. 22, 1993, incident. He could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted.

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