The first of three child sexual abuse trials of Jamal David Craig opened in Howard County Circuit Court yesterday with a state prosecutor arguing that the 17-year-old high school student was legally and emotionally unqualified to work at his mother's day care center, where a 7-year-old girl has alleged he molested her.

Craig, who was 15 during the 10-month period in which the abuse allegedly occurred, also lacked the dedication necessary for caring for young children and "in fact was embarrassed because he was forced to work there," Assistant State's Attorney A. Gallatin Warfield III said in his opening remarks yesterday.

Craig has been charged with assault and battery, first-degree sexual offense, child abuse, perverted sexual practice and sexual relations with a minor in the case.

Craig also is charged in connection with the abuse of two other children and is expected to stand trial two more times later this year.

Craig faces life in prison if convicted of the most serious crime, first-degree sexual offense.

Craig's mother Sandra, who was convicted in April of physically and sexually abusing a 6-year-old girl attending her day care center -- Craig's Country Pre-School in Clarksville -- was seated in the courtroom during the opening remarks. She is awaiting a hearing next month on a motion for a new trial stemming from that case, and faces a trial in October on charges of molesting 12 children.

M. Cristina Gutierrez, the attorney for Craig along with former Baltimore Circuit Court judge William H. Murphy Jr., said that the prosecutor had failed to outline the case against her client in sufficient detail to assist the jury and enable Craig to present a plausible defense "because the state is afraid it doesn't know what happened."

"The only purpose of an opening statement is to lay out the facts of the case. It's something like reading the back of a book, at least that's what they teach us in law school. The book you have to read is a mystery . . . . There's no who, what, where and how . . . and it's being written right now," she said.

Gutierrez also disputed the state's contention that the girl had voluntarily offered her tale of abuse to her parents, a therapist and the police.

Rather, Gutierrez said, she had provided contradictory statements during the last 14 months, and the defense attorney suggested that those were made at the prodding of prosecutors, therapists, the girl's parents and the parents' friends.

In his opening remarks, Warfield also had urged the jurors to keep an open mind and suspend whatever disbelief they had about the nature of the crime of child abuse and the credibility of child witnesses.

Describing abuse as "an opportunistic crime," he said that no one should be surprised if the trial failed to produce any eyewitnesses besides the girl or videotapes of her describing the events.

Prosecutors said that the 7-year-old girl will probably give her testimony over closed-circuit television beginning Tuesday. When the trial resumes on Monday, some of the first witnesses will include persons who will "provide some background" on the center's operations, Warfield said.