Convicted murder Gene T. Meyers's arraignment on four new charges of solicitation for murder took place yesterday not in a courtroom, but in the gymnasium of the Prince George's County detention center.
No judge, commissioner, prosecutor of defense attorney was present. The defendant did not center a plea and the public was barred from the proceeding because no one can enter the detention center without official authorization, which could not be obtained by a reporter.
This unusual procedure is standard practice in Prince George's County under 11-month-old Circuit Cout rule 723. The - passed down by the Matyland Court of Appeals - in effect abolishes the arraignment procedure.
The original purpose of the arraignment was to meet the requirement of the constitution, which says that anyone charged with a crime, "Has a right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation."
Thus, at an arraignment, the accuse was read the charges against him and the indictment detailing the charges. He then made a plea of guilt or not guilty.
In recent years, reading an indictment has, in the eyes of many, become unnecessary. "The court (of appeals) was attempting to save time by cutting short a formality," Prince George's County Chief Judge Ernest A. Loveless said. "Under the rule the defendant is still informed of all his rights, but a judge does not have to be present to hear the proceeding
Under rule 723 only the following takes place at what used to be an arraignment: The charges against the defendant are read, and so are a list of his constitutional rights. He is told that he has a right to an attorney and the method by which he may obtain one is explained.
A second reason why defendant Meyer never left the jail yesterday was a decision by Loveless that a defendant in jail would have his "arraignment," in jail. In cases where a defendant is out on bond he now comes to the county courthouse where the clerk carries out the "arraignment."
"I simply felt that under the new rule passed by the court last July this would be a proper procedure to follow," Loveless said yesterday. "We save court time and cut down on the security risk."
Loveless said he had no problem, with the concept of the procedure being carried out in provate, "because it really isn't an arraignment. The arraignment has, more or less, been abolished."
In Prince George's County now, a defendant appears before a judge prior to trial only if no attorney has formally taken his case seven days after the "arraignment."
A survey yesterday of four other Maryland counties - Montgomery, Baltimore, Queen Anne's and Anne Arundel - revealed that arraignment proceedings are still carried out there in court before a judge.
"(The new proceudre) is really a nonarraignment arraignment" Mont gomery County state's yesterday. "But it's still listed on an arraignment docket and does take place in court."
Randy Baker, director of an American Bar Association project to chat changes in criminal justice procedures around the county, said the ABA has no standard suggested procedures for arraignment.
"We have 18 volumes out on law procedures but they don't include anything on arraignment," he said. "Right now we're trying to raise funds to put out a volume on the charges process.
"My gut feeling on this is that a jail-house arriagnment is not a good thing," he continued. "If someone is to be charged with a public charges it should be done in public. I also don't think a jail is a good place to do that sort things. The surroundings are not right."
Meyer 28, was arrigned," in the jail's gym yesterday on four charges of soliciting murder while he was in the county detention center.
On Tuesday Meyer was sentenced to life in prison for the Sept. 23, 1977, stabbing murder of Carol Ann Lewis 28, and an additional 30 years for the murder of Lewis's 4-month-old daughter, Heather.
Moments after Meyer was sentenced by Judge Jacob S. Levin, prosecutor Joseph Sauerwein introduced Maryland State Police Capt. Frank Mazzone to the court, revealing that Mazzone, posing as an attorney, had been solicited by Meyer to commit murder during meetings in the jail between May 8 and 15.
According to Saurewein, Meyer had offered to pay Mazzone $40,000 to murder his wife, Hortensia, Lon A. Lewis, his convicted partner in the "you-kill-my wife, I'll -kill-yours," murder plotthat led to the Sept. 23 killings, and ultimately the twocounty police officers who had testified against him.
Moments after Sauerwein revealed Mazzone's true identity, Meyer fainted in the courtroom and had to be taken from the courthouse on a stretcher. He was treated at Prince George's County Hospital and returned to the detention center several hours later.
Arthus A. Marshall JR., state's attorney for Prince George's County, said yesterday he had no comment to make on Rule 723 or on the way it was being implemented in the county. "We just implemented the rules as they're given to us," he said.