After a three-month delay, the child abuse trial of the 17-year-old son of former day care center owner Sandra A. Craig is scheduled to begin this week.
It will be the first of three trials in Howard County Circuit Court involving allegations of abuse by Hammond High School senior Jamal David Craig, whose mother was convicted in April of physically and sexually abusing a 6-year-old girl.
Jamal Craig's trial is to begin today, but lawyers said it may be delayed by several days because of motions filed last week by his attorneys. Craig has been charged as an adult with abusing a 7-year-old girl who attended the day care center between August 1984 and May 1985. The charges include first-degree sexual offense, child abuse and assault and battery.
Craig and his mother were accused of abusing children at Craig's Country Pre-School, a day care center operated at the family's Clarksville home. The center was closed by the county health department last year.
According to prosecutors and a defense attorney, little else about the trial will resemble last spring's three-week court proceedings, which provided a firsthand glimpse of the way courts deal with abuse cases involving several children.
"The victims are different and the offenders are different. We don't plan on treating this as an extension of the Sandra Craig case," said assistant state's attorney Kate O'Donnell, one of two prosecutors trying the cases against Craig and his mother.
One significant difference will be the appearance of a new defense attorney. On the morning his trial was to start in April, Craig requested permission to replace Fred Kolodner, the lawyer who had represented his mother, with William H. Murphy Jr., a former Baltimore Circuit Court judge and mayoral candidate well known for his aggressive courtroom tactics.
Murphy and cocounsel Christina Guiterrez last week filed at least six pretrial motions, including a request for dismissal on grounds that the charges are too vague to permit an adequate defense.
In one key move, the lawyers asked that the 7-year-old girl be forbidden from testifying on closed-circuit television.
Under a two-year-old Maryland law designed to protect young witnesses from the trauma of a court appearance, children in the first trial were allowed to testify from the judge's chambers with their images appearing on a television screen in the courtroom.
Although Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. ruled in January that the same conditions would apply in this trial, Guiterrez has argued that the state failed to prove that the 7-year-old was psychologically incapable of appearing in open court.
In another motion, Guiterrez said she planned to call the girl to the witness stand during a pretrial hearing today to determine whether her identification of Jamal Craig as her alleged abuser was made at the suggestion of police officers, social service workers or the girl's parents.
Another difference in this trial, according to O'Donnell, is that the 7-year-old girl is likely to be the only child witness. In Sandra Craig's trial, three children scheduled to be the subjects of future trials were allowed to testify because their accusations were sufficiently similar to establish a pattern of abuse, O'Donnell said. No such "common scheme" exists between the 7-year-old and the other two children whom Jamal Craig has been accused of abusing, she said.
Sandra Craig is scheduled to be sentenced next month. She faces another trial in October on charges involving 11 children.