Howard man's third sex-abuse trial to move

Publicity of 2 convictions forces move, judge says

August 10, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A former Ellicott City ballet teacher convicted of sexually assaulting two of his students received so much publicity during trials in those cases that a third trial on similar charges should be moved to another county, a Howard circuit judge ruled yesterday.

Jose Anibal Macedo's initial presumption of innocence and large base of support among other students and their parents have been replaced by two sets of felony convictions in cases that have had "prolonged exposure" in the media, Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley said.

With Macedo's third trial looming, "the tenor and the flavor of the [transfer] argument has changed," the judge said.

"Unlike the other cases, to me, this is different," said Dudley in granting a motion to remove the case from Howard County.

The decision came at the request of Macedo's defense attorney, Deputy Public Defender Louis P. Willemin, who argued that his client could not get a fair trial in Howard County in a case that hinges on the credibility of witnesses. But prosecutor Mary Murphy disagreed, noting that Howard juries had been seated "with no problem" in cases with much higher profiles.

Dudley's decision likely means that Macedo's latest trial, which had been scheduled to start Sept. 8, will be postponed and sent to one of the other two counties - Carroll or Anne Arundel - in Howard County's judicial circuit.

What effect the decision would have on Friday's scheduled sentencing in the second case was unclear yesterday. Macedo was convicted of sexual child abuse and three counts of third-degree sexual offense in that case in May.

Dudley, who tried the case instead of a jury, questioned yesterday whether it was wise to hand down a second sentence that would be reported in the news media with the third trial still approaching. Macedo, 43, is serving a six-year prison term for attempted rape and related convictions from the first case.

"We want this case to go without any bubbles," he said.

The third trial is expected to be the last of a series of cases brought in December 2002, each alleging that Macedo sexually assaulted a different student during private lessons at his Baltimore National Pike dance studio, Advance Dance Academy. The studio has closed.

Investigators have said that three of Macedo's female students approached them separately - and during different seasons - in 2002. Two of the three reported that they were preteens when the abuse started.

The alleged victim in the case awaiting trial told authorities that Macedo fondled her over an 18-month period beginning in November 1999 when she was 14, according to charging documents. The teen, who is now 19, approached investigators in May 2002. The Sun does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.

Because of the time lapse between the alleged offense and the filing of charges, prosecutors said yesterday that the statute of limitations - one year for misdemeanor offenses - forced them to drop two of the three counts, both charging a fourth-degree sexual offense, in the case.

A charge of child sexual abuse, a felony, remains.

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