Rape case bargained down to assault

Witness credibility noted by prosecutor

Laurel man given 3 years' probation

March 25, 2004|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

A 34-year-old man accused of raping a 16-year-old girl at knifepoint in a Jessup motel in November received three years' supervised probation and no prison sentence in a plea deal yesterday, after a Howard County prosecutor indicated that a lack of credibility among witnesses could derail the case.

With the girl seated 10 feet behind him and sniffling with tears, Thomas A. Woodson agreed to plead guilty to second-degree assault charges. If Woodson, a Laurel resident, violates his probation, he could serve a six-year sentence under the plea agreement.

In a courtroom charged with emotion for the girl's family, Assistant State's Attorney James J. Dietrich told Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney that he wouldn't pursue the rape charge because "the credibility of some of the witnesses would be called into question."

Dietrich told the judge that the girl and her family wanted a trial and were not satisfied with his decision to drop the rape charge, but he said he "feared acquittal on all charges."

Sweeney said he is not in a position to second-guess the state's attorney's judgment on whether to pursue a particular charge.

"They have to make serious judgments on whether a case will be viable before a jury," Sweeney said. "My experience is that their judgment is not made lightly."

But the judge did say he thought that Woodson's penalty was "a modest outcome for very serious" accusations.

Given the chance to speak in court, the 16-year-old girl blasted the criminal justice system and the prosecutor's decision to drop the rape charge. She said she is receiving counseling.

"This whole time, I feel like I'm a victim, yet I feel like he has more rights than me," the teen-age said. "He raped me, he threatened my life and the life of another boy, and he's getting away with it, with absolutely nothing."

The Sun does not publish the names of alleged rape victims or others involved in a case in a way that can identify a victim.

While the girl spoke in court, her uncle rose and quickly strode over to the defendant's girlfriend, Chynita Smith, who was chuckling and scoffing during much of the girl's statement. He pointed a finger at her and said: "Do you mind? Do not laugh. Do not laugh."

Sheriff's deputies immediately got between the two.

After the girl finished talking, Woodson stood and spoke briefly. He alternately looked ahead at the judge and turned back to address the girl and her family, saying several times that he was sorry.

"I'd like to apologize to [the girl] and the way her family feels," Woodson said. "I am being punished. ... Whatever happened that night, I apologize. We were both in the wrong place that night. ... My family has been hurt by this situation, too. I'm deeply sorry about the whole incident."

In a telephone interview after court, Dietrich said he didn't pursue the rape charge because he believed that witnesses -- and the girl -- could have been "strongly attacked" by the defense, though he declined to specify their potential weaknesses.

He also said one key witness declined to meet with him for an interview, which made him reluctant to call on the witness without knowing what he might say on the stand.

"There was enough question to cloud the story to the point where I thought it could dip the jury's view down below a reasonable doubt," Dietrich said.

The charges against Woodson stemmed from an incident that occurred early Nov. 15.

Police responded to a 911 call at the Cedar Motel in Jessup about 5:30 a.m., where they interviewed three people in a motel room -- the 16-year-old girl, a 17-year-old boy and an 18-year-old man.

According to a statement of facts read into the record by the prosecutor:

A man named "D" entered their room and demanded they pay him money for drugs. They tried to get him to leave but couldn't, and he began selling drugs out of their room while other people came and went.

"D" eventually left, but Woodson came into the room soon after, displayed a knife, and implied he had a handgun in his waistband. He ordered the three to give him the money they owed him, but they denied knowing what he was talking about.

Woodson ordered the 18-year-old man to stay in the bathroom, then told the girl and the other boy to engage in sexual acts, the document said, before allegedly ordering her to perform a sex act on him.

"While still brandishing the knife," the court document said, "the defendant ordered [the girl] to have sex with him." The girl protested, but was told she did not have a choice. She asked the man to use a condom and gave one to him.

Police searched the motel room and found a flip-type knife between the bed and the wall, and a torn and empty condom wrapper. Woodson's fingerprints were on a vodka bottle in the room, the court document said.

Woodson was found by police near the motel that morning, identified and arrested.

Janette DeBoissiere, Woodson's public defender, disputed the portions of the prosecutor's statement that said Woodson had committed any sexual offenses.

Outside the courtroom yesterday, the girl's father said he wasn't happy with the decision to drop the rape charge, but he was resigned to it.

"I think, unfortunately, it was the best thing to do," the father said. "He could've gotten off with nothing, and we didn't want that."

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