Oft-delayed trial frustrates family

Judge denies request for quick action

March 09, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

After 14 canceled court dates and nearly 900 days since a former neighbor was charged with capital murder in her mother's 1988 slaying, Jennifer Shereika Scott wrote the latest trial date in pencil.

Out of frustration, she and her brother, Dan Shereika, made a request unprecedented in Maryland: They asked a judge for an expedited trial date for the man accused of the crime, Alexander Wayne Watson Jr., and - short of a dire emergency - to stick to it.

Their right to attend a trial was being compromised, they argued.

Yesterday, Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Joseph P. Manck ruled against them, saying that although he is mindful of their rights, they are not parties in the complex death-penalty case. He could not move up the recently scheduled three-week trial and said he would make decisions on delays "as justice demands."

"Sept. 17 is fine with me. I just don't want to see another delay, that's all I really want," a disappointed Scott said.

The request indicates a maturing of the victims' rights movement, with crime victims demanding a greater voice in the court system and to have their issues balanced against the defendant's rights, said Susan Howley, director of public policy of the Washington-based National Center for Victims of Crime.

In Maryland, crime victims and their representatives have a right to notice of court proceedings, to attend the trial, seek restitution and speak at sentencing.

"We are just trying to get the court to think that there are more interests out there than the state's and the defendant's," said Russell P Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center, the largest victim advocacy group in Maryland, which represents the family.

Karl H. Gordon, one of three assistant public defenders representing Watson, said that in addition to the complexities normal to death penalty cases, the lead defense lawyer quit to take a new job. That left the public defenders scrambling to find another lawyer who was not only qualified to work on a death penalty case, but also available.

This is one of three pending murder cases against Watson, and because as the only death penalty case in the group its stakes are the highest; the other two were put on hold in 2005.

He is accused of raping, beating, strangling and stabbing Mary Elaine Shereika in a rye field near her Gambrills home on a May morning in 1988.

Watson became a suspect while he was serving life in prison for the 1994 murder of a woman in Prince George's County. By comparing the DNA of felons to genetic material from cold cases, police got what they called three matches, including one in this case. Watson was charged in 2004.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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