In a highly unusual action, a Montgomery County grand jury is attempting to withdraw its indictment of nine people for kidnaping in connection with an alleged effort to "deprogram" a follower of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.
The grand jury did not say why it wanted the indictment withdrawn in its July 14 letter to Circuit Court Judge Philip M. Fairbanks.
Fairbanks, who is considering the request, said that to his knowledge this was the first time that a local grand jury has even made such a request.
The nine perosns, including the mother of the alleged victim, were charged March 31 with kidnaping Karen Marie Mischke, a 23-year-old "Moonie," while she was visiting relatives in Montgomery County.
The job of a grand jury is to decide whether there is evidence sufficient to justify an indictment and a trial, possibly before a petit jury of 12 people. Its proceedings - conducted by a prosecutor - are supposed to be secret until an indictment is presented.
In a hearing on Friday, Deputy State's Attorney Timothy E. Clarke, said he argued that the grand jury's job is merely to indict people. "After they've made an indictment." Clarke commented later, "their hands are off the case. It's not their job to try people, only to find out if there is enough evidence to try people." Clarke cited a 1926 case in Georgia where a grand jury tried to recall an indictment but was not allowed to by the court.
Alfred Scanlan, attorney for six of the defendants including Mischke's mother, said that the grand jury could recall an indictment because the judge told them at the beginning of their duty that they had the right to do so.
"It's customary for judges to say that to the grand jury." Clarke remarked, "but it's never really been tested before." Clarke said the closest to a change of mind that has ever occurred was in 1885 when a grand jury in a western Maryland county was allowed to make an amendment to an indictment it had handed down.
Scanlan said he did not know why the grand jury had moved to recall the indictments which include kidnapping, false imprisonment, assault, and conspiracy to kidnap against all nine defendants, six of whom are in North Carolina. Scanlan said that neither he nor Albert Brault, the other defense attorney, had talked to any of the grand jurors.
No member of the grand jury is supposed to talk to anyone except the other jurors about a case in which they legally receive, according to Clarke. "They can discuss the cases among themselves." Clarke said, "I'm sure they're very interested in what happens to the cases they hand indictments down on."
The nine people indicted including three deprogramming experts, were allegedly attempting to get Mischke to renounce the religious beliefs that she had developed in the past three years that she has been a member of the Unification Church.
There have been many efforts by parents of moonies and disciples of the Hare Krishno sect to persuade their children to give up their beliefs. Usually this involves parents attempting to get court orders called conservatorships that will give them custody of children who are adults who have been shown incapable of managing their own affairs.
The nine people who were indicted allegedly kidnaped Mischke from her relatives in Montgomery County and took her to North Carolina where she was kept for about eight days.
While being driven from North Carolina through Maryland, she escaped on March 21.
Mischke, her mother and four others had stopped at a gas station near the Capitol Beltway when Mischke got out of the car to get a drink of water and telephoned police.