After nine court appearances, a night in jail and $1,000 in legal expenses, a Temple Hills man, Frederick A. Wright, has been found not guilty of possession of a PCP-laced marijuana cigarette.
Wright, 26, said he never thought he would have much trouble proving his innocence in what he thought was a relatively minor incident last Sept. 10, when he went with friends to The Atlantis Club bar in Bryan's Road, Md.
Thursday afternoon a Charles County Circuit Court jury, after deliberating four hours, returned a verdict that vindicated him. By then, Wright said, he voluntarily had left his high-level security job in computer operations at the Defense Technical Information Center at Cameron Station in Alexandria, after government security officers pressed him for a resolution in the case.
"This has been one damn big nightmare," he said. "It started out as such a small thing--a misdemeanor--but it had me up the wall. It just kept going."
Prosecutor Leonard Collins said delays are not uncommon because courts over-schedule, anticipating that some defendents won't show up. But Collins added that the nine times Wright appeared was "about the outside limit."
Wright was arrested and jailed after two undercover sheriff's officers approached him and a woman in the parking lot of the bar.
Police testified Wright held a PCP-laced marijuana cigarette and then passed it to the woman. Wright said he never touched it, and had simply paused to light what he supposed was a cigarette while he searched the parking lot for his lost car keys.
It took the woman three appearances in District Court to get a chance to plead guilty and receive 15 days in jail and probation. In the meantime, Wright's trial was postponed repeatedly as the court considered other cases ahead of his.
At a fifth appearance in January, the Charles County state's attorney's dropped the charges against Wright when a chemist didn't appear to testify. But in February, Wright learned he had been indicted when his sister-in-law called to tell him his name was in the local newspapers.
Wright, who now installs restaurant smoke filters for a private firm, said he is not sure whether he will go back to his former job with the government. "I'm staying away from Charles County, though, if I can help it."