Timothy Joseph Buzbee, waiving his right to a jury trial in the second of the Aspen Hill rape cases, requested yesterday that a judge hear the case and determine the verdict.
Buzbee, who was found guilty by a jury about two weeks ago of raping a 15-year-old girl, now faces trial on charges of raping a 38-year-old woman and stealing an Exxon credit card from her. Opening arguments in the case are set for today before Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge John F. McAuliffe, who will determine Buzbee's guilt or innocence at the conclusion of the trial.
In making this rare decision to be tried by a judge, Buzbee gave up his constitutional right to trial by a jury. Defendants generally seek what are known as bench trials for some tactical reason, according to several criminal defense lawyers.
McAuliffe, the judge who had been assigned to the case, is known in the county as a legal scholar who, according to one lawyer, "will bend over backwards to avoid all the prejudices that might flow from publicity" in the highly publicized rape cases.
Buzbee's attorney, Reginald W. Bours III, refused to elaborate on the reasons for Buzbee's decision. Yesterday in court he said only that he had advised Buzbee that McAuliffe was not inclined to sequester a jury from publicity in the case.
Bours has maintained for months that Buzbee's chances of finding an unbiased jury were diminished by the extensive publicity that has surrounded his arrest on charges of raping four women. The rapes have become known as the "Aspen Hill rapes" for the upper-middle-income Montgomery County neighborhood in which they occurred. The 25-year-old land surveyor pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
One Montgomery County defense attorney also said a lawyer might find a bench trial preferable when he plans to mount a "technical defense that a judge would understand and grasp more quickly than a jury."
However, the lawyer also noted that seeking a bench trial is a gamble in another respect. With a judge trying the case, the likelihood is reduced that there will be any error that would cause a reversal later by an appellate court, the lawyer said.