Judge's Error Frees Murder Defendant

"I screwed up, " Circuit Court Judge Vincent J. Femia said.
By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 15, 2005

Prince George's County police and federal marshals are looking for a murder defendant mistakenly released by a judge who admitted that he did not look at the man's file before issuing an order to let him out of jail without bail.

County Circuit Court Judge Vincent J. Femia said in an interview that he inadvertently ordered the release of Pedro H. Guifarro, 25, of Chillum on Oct. 4. Guifarro is charged with first-degree murder for allegedly being the driver in what prosecutors believe was a gang-related killing in the Adelphi area.

Femia said he was unaware that he was ordering the release of a man accused of first-degree murder. With rare exceptions, such defendants are held without bond.

"Like a damn dummy, I didn't even look at the file," Femia said. "I screwed up."

Authorities have been looking for Guifarro since shortly after his release.

Femia, 69, served on the Circuit Court bench for 20 years and retired in 1997. He sits the bench in the Upper Marlboro courthouse part time, usually presiding over the so-called rocket docket, in which the judge quickly hears dozens of cases involving lower-level offenses.

Femia said that when he ordered Guifarro's release, he thought he was dealing with a different case.

Four days before Femia signed off on Guifarro's release, an attorney in an unrelated case involving a nonviolent offense told him that a bench warrant had been placed on his client by mistake, Femia said. The client, who has a Latino name, was free on his own recognizance, and the attorney asked Femia to rescind the bench warrant, the judge said. Femia said he told the attorney he'd take care of it.

Femia said he was scheduled to hear two jury trials Oct 4. One was postponed, and the attorneys in the second case were in plea negotiations, Femia said.

When Guifarro's file was presented to him and he saw the defendant had a Latino name, Femia said, he assumed it was the case involving the erroneous bench warrant.

According to a court transcript, Femia read the case number and Guifarro's name out loud, spelling the defendant's last name. Femia then said, "Please note the bench warrant has been recalled and the recognizance is reinstated."

Neither Guifarro's defense attorney nor the prosecutor in the case was present when Femia issued his order.


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