Thursday, June 22, 2006

A prosecutor trying to stop a rape trial was more than 45 minutes late for court and the judge threw out the case because of the tardiness

Thomas J. Sheeran:

Norman Craig

The defendant is likely to be reindicted and go before a different judge, but the response was still heated to the decision by Eileen A. Gallagher, one of 34 trial judges in Cleveland's busy criminal courts.

The mother of the 16-year-old accuser denounced the judge as unethical and the defense accused the prosecutor of "judge shopping."

"My client's life is on the line here," defense attorney Rufus Sims said of the suspect, Norman Allen Craig, 22, of North Ridgeville. "We're concerned about this forum-shopping. They are trying to find another judge who is going to be agreeable, amenable to them. This judge clearly is not that kind of judge."

Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Mark Schneider failed to appear by 1:45 p.m. for a 1 p.m. trial on June 12. At the time, he was preparing an appeal to try to stop the case, in which Craig is charged with raping the girl six years ago.

Schneider asked Gallagher to step aside, claiming that she showed a bias against the accuser last fall by suggesting the girl lacked credibility. Gallagher denies the accusation, noting that she ruled against a defense request to use reports from social workers to buttress its case.

Schneider said the case would be reinstated, either through a new indictment or getting the original case revived on appeal. Craig remains free on bond.

"Any time a young child who's had the courage to come forward is victimized by the system, nobody wins," he said. "This little girl deserves her fair shot at trial and we're going to give her a fair shot at trial. Every action we've taken is to do just that."

The girl's mother told WOIO-TV that Gallagher had acted unethically. The AP was unable to reach the accuser's family and asked the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center to relay an interview request.

Megan O'Bryan, executive director of the agency, said the case may make victims more reluctant to report rapes.

Gallagher said Schneider could easily seek a new indictment and take that case before another judge. Gallagher said Cuyahoga County court rules would automatically assign the case to her but she would step aside.

Gallagher called the dismissal a procedural move that will not deter justice. She said it's not unusual to dismiss a case when a lawyer isn't prepared for a trial.

"The bottom line is people have to understand a rapist was not set free," the judge said. "He will be brought before a court and will have his day in court, as will this young girl, or teenage girl. This girl will have her case fairly heard in a court of law."

Dead wrong

Cleveland rape case causing a furor

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