Prosecution loses witnesses, 11 cases But defendant enters Alford plea in 1 sex case

June 13, 1996|By A SUN STAFF WRITER

After losing key prosecution witnesses -- the alleged victims -- cases against a man who prosecutors said posed as a photographer to fondle young women ended yesterday when 11 charges were dismissed in exchange for a guilty plea on one charge.

The five Columbia-area women, who were between 18 and 24 at the time of the incidents, either refused to cooperate or could not be located, said Assistant State's Attorney Bernard Taylor.

But Richard Charles -- who was sentenced to time already served -- is not free yet. He also is charged with insurance fraud and is an illegal alien from Haiti. He is being held at the Howard County Detention Center.

Defense attorneys said that prosecutors miscalculated the strength of the sex offense cases. Charles initially was charged with 22 counts of child abuse, sex offenses and battery, but he was acquitted of the most serious charges -- allegations by a 15-year-old -- in April. What remained were misdemeanors.

In the end, Charles entered an Alford plea to a fourth-degree sex offense, meaning he concedes the state has enough evidence to convict him, but he maintains his innocence.

The charge "couldn't be any more minor. Battery is worse than this," said Jason Shapiro, Charles' attorney. "There is no reason this man should have been locked up all this time." Charles was sentenced to 164 days in jail yesterday, but he was given credit for time already served.

Prosecutors said the resolution of the cases was not a defeat. Faced with no victims, Taylor said, he salvaged what he could. "It was a matter of walking away with something instead of nothing," Taylor said. "I took what I could get."

Immigration officials started deportation proceedings against Charles last year. But authorities decided to prosecute Charles to hinder his chances of living in this country.

Under U.S. policies, serious convictions make it harder -- though not impossible -- for illegal immigrants to be granted political asylum in the United States or to return to this country after being deported.

Charles plans to file for political asylum, his attorney, Tim Wolf, said.

Immigration officials said yesterday's guilty plea may not preclude him from being granted that status.

However, the outcome of the insurance fraud case -- in which he faces up to 15 years in jail -- could affect his petition, said John O'Malley, deputy district director for detention and deportation of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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