Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Sex-abuse case dropped because of delays in search for interpreter

Source: CNN.

ROCKVILLE, Maryland (AP) -- Charges against a man accused of raping and repeatedly molesting a 7-year-old girl have been dropped because the court took too long to find an interpreter fluent in his native West African language.

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Katherine D. Savage dismissed the nearly three-year-old case against Mahamu Kanneh last week, saying the delays had violated the Liberian immigrant's right to a speedy trial.

"This is one of the most difficult decisions I've had to make in a long time," Savage said from the bench Tuesday. She said she was mindful of "the gravity of this case and the community's concern about offenses of this type."

Prosecutors are considering whether to appeal the dismissal. They cannot refile the charges.

Police arrested Kanneh, of Gaithersburg, in August 2004 after witnesses told police he assaulted the girl multiple times. He spent one night in jail and was released on a $10,000 bond with the restriction that he have no contact with minors.

Prosecutors at first maintained Kanneh could understand the proceedings without translation into his native Vai, a tribal language that linguists estimate is spoken by about 100,000 people mostly in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Prosecutors pointed out that Kanneh attended high school and community college in Montgomery and spoke to detectives in English.

A court-appointed psychiatrist recommended that an interpreter be appointed and judges who handled subsequent hearings heeded that advice. But officials could not find a competent interpreter of Vai who would stay.

The first interpreter stormed out of the courtroom in tears because she found the facts of the case disturbing. A second interpreter was rejected for faulty work. A third Vai interpreter was located, but at the last minute, that person had to tend to a family emergency.

In recent weeks court officials had found a suitable interpreter, but Savage ruled that too much time had already passed.

Prosecutor Maura Lynch had argued that dismissing the indictment "after all the efforts the state has made to accommodate the defendant would be fundamentally unfair."

Kanneh's attorney, Theresa Chernosky, declined to comment.

Loretta E. Knight, the court clerk responsible for finding interpreters, said her office searched exhaustively for a speaker of Vai. She said court officials contacted the Liberian Embassy and courts in all but three states.

The Washington Post reported that it identified three Vai interpreters Thursday with help from the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters, including one in Gaithersburg.

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