More than a year and a half after lawyers for Marine Pvt. Lindsey Scott appealed his conviction for the rape, kidnaping, sodomy and attempted murder of a Quantico woman, no decision has been issued by the military court responsible for the case, and there are signs the judges may be sharply divided.
Scott, who is black, is serving a sentence of 30 years at hard labor for the attack against a white woman at the Quantico Marine Corps base in April 1983.
The case, which hinged primarily on circumstantial evidence, attracted national attention from civil rights groups, including the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
These groups charged that Scott was victimized because of his race and because military authorities wanted a speedy resolution of the case.
At a hearing on the case at Quantico in January, a witness testified for the first time that Scott, a 29-year-old husband and father whose record was unmarred before the court martial, had been at a department store miles from where the victim was abducted.
Since July, the case has been before the a three-judge panel of the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Military Review, which may uphold or reverse the conviction, authorize a retrial or reduce Scott's sentence.
The case, by all accounts, is complex; more than 2,000 pages of transcripts, briefs and other documents comprise the record before the panel, with frequently tangled and contradictory facts.
There have been several indications that the court is having a difficult time deciding it.
In mid-November, a spokesman for the court said a decision would be handed down "any day now." After repeated inquiries, the spokesman assured a reporter that the decision would "definitely" be issued before the end of November. No decision was issued.
On Friday, the senior member of the three-judge panel, Navy Capt. John W. Kercheval II, said that two or three rough drafts of the final decision had been circulated among the judges and it was once again with the typist.
Kercheval said he expected a decision to be issued by Jan. 15. Then, reconsidering, he revised the time frame to the end of January.
"I honestly don't know if the three judges are going to stay in their current positions" on the case, Kercheval said in an interview. "This is one of the most difficult cases I've been involved in."
Scott's civilian attorney, John Leino, said Scott, who is incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., had recently been on a hunger strike to protest the delay in the appeal of his case. Scott lost 60 pounds, according to Leino.
Leino said he hoped the military court's deliberations would produce a "well-considered and correct opinion."
He acknowledged that the rumors in November of an imminent decision had left him "frustrated and depressed."
Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Holt, the government's appellate prosecutor, declined to comment on the reasons for the lengthy deliberations.
One local civil rights activist upbraided the court for its handling of the appeal, however.
"You've got an innocent Marine sitting behind bars waiting for these idiots to make a decision," said Lori Jackson, a Prince William County woman who monitored the Scott case. She said a retrial in the case is "inevitable," adding: "They're doing everything they can possibly do to delay it."
Jackson said she is trying to arrange for a skywriter to emblazon "Remember Lindsey Scott" in the air above the Washington Navy Yard, where the court of military review sits.
Among the main issues the three-judge panel is considering, according to Kercheval, is whether Scott was effectively represented at his October 1983 court-martial by Ervan E. Kuhnke Jr., a Dumfries attorney.
Scott testified at a hearing in January that he chose Kuhnke out of an advertisement in the local Yellow Pages, and witnesses for Scott said they were not interviewed before being placed on the stand to testify in the court-martial.
The judicial panel may also weigh the credibility of one key witness, Cynthia Ausby, a former department store guard, who testified at the January hearing that Scott was miles from the scene of the crime when it occurred.
That testimony represented a shift in Ausby's story from the original court-martial, when she said she remembered seeing Scott but was unsure of the date.
Ausby said she was unprepared for her original testimony and had not checked records that would have established the date she remembered seeing Scott at a Zayre department store in Woodbridge.
Prosecutors acknowledged in January that Ausby's testimony was damaging to their case and vowed to challenge the seeming conflict in her version of events if there is a retrial.