A report on the Jamal Craig trial in the Metro section yesterday carried courtroom sketches with incorrect credit lines. The sketches were by Caroline Landon. (Published 7/30/87)

The long-awaited child sexual abuse trial of Jamal David Craig came to an abrupt halt yesterday after the prosecution's key witness, a 7-year-old girl, was unable to testify that "any bad things" had ever happened to her at the day care center where the 17-year-old Craig worked and was alleged to have assaulted her.

Howard County prosecutors dropped six physical and child abuse charges against Craig after the girl was unable to tell Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane what if anything had happened to her. She also could not name the center or any of its teachers when questioned by the judge.

The trial's collapse was the latest twist to one of the Washington area's most highly publicized child abuse cases.

Facing a sea of television cameras outside the courthouse, Craig, who had maintained a reserved and solemn demeanor during months of court appearances and the three-day trial, threw his arms around his attorneys and broke into a wide grin.

"I'm happy because justice was served but I'm sad because I didn't do these things and I'm sad it had to get to this point," he said.

Prosecutors dropped the charges after Kane ruled that the girl was "incompetent" to testify, a problem often associated with child witnesses. The girl lacked "the capacity to observe and remember the facts of the matter of which she is supposed to testify," Kane said.

Prosecutors contended that the girl told police and therapists that she had been molested. But because Maryland law prohibits doctors, therapists and police officers from relaying a child's out-of-court statements in a criminal trial, prosecutors conceded that their hands were tied. Without the girl's testimony they said they had no choice but to drop the charges against Craig, the most serious of which would have carried a maximum life sentence upon conviction.

Craig has been indicted on similar charges involving two other children and is scheduled to stand trial in those cases later this year, prosecutors said. His mother, Sandra, was convicted in April of abusing a 6-year-old girl, and faces an October trial in which she has been charged with molesting 12 other children. Both mother and son have consistently maintained their innocence since their arrests last September.

Jamal Craig had been charged with first- and second-degree sex offense, perverted sexual practice, child abuse, assault, and battery.

Kane's ruling was met by giddy smiles and relieved sighs by Jamal Craig and his supporters in the courtroom. "God was on time today," Sandra Craig told reporters.

Assistant State's Attorney A. Gallatin Warfield III said that while he and co-counsel Kate O'Donnell were "bitterly disappointed by the judge's ruling," they weren't surprised by the girl's inability to testify in court.

The girl had been confused by the judge's questions, Warfield said, and did not understand that Kane was referring to Sandra Craig's school when he was asking her about the schools she had attended.

Although she had never named Craig as her abuser, prosecutors said the girl had told them, her therapist and police that she and other children had been molested by "a black boy" or "two black boys" at Craig's Country Pre-School in Clarksville, which was operated by Sandra Craig until it was closed by the local health department last summer. The girl later identified Craig, who is black, in a photograph, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors emphasized that the outcome of the case yesterday didn't diminish the strength of the remaining cases against Jamal Craig or his mother.

"We said to parents from the beginning you never know whether a child is going to be able to testify," said Deputy State's Attorney Dwight Thompson.

Seated before a video camera in the judge's chambers with her image beamed to the courtroom over a television monitor, the girl nervously twirled a plastic bracelet on her wrist, but easily answered the judge's gentle questions about her age and address. In a low voice that seldom rose above a whisper, she recited the alphabet and said she knew the difference between truth and lies.

However, the girl said "yes" and then "no" when asked whether she attended nursery school, and could not remember the names of teachers, friends or what her nursery school looked like.

After repeated attempts to elicit more information, the judge became more direct in his questioning.

"Can you remember anything about the nursery school that happened that you might want to tell me about?" he asked.

"Uh-uh," the girl said, meaning no.

"Do you remember any bad things that happened at the nursery school?"

"Uh-uh," she said.

"I think the child was extremely nervous," Thompson said. "When she came back here today she said she was relieved. She said, 'I didn't ever have to answer the nasty questions.' She thought she had done very well and I think she did do very well."

But Craig's attorneys said the girl's inability to name the school or tell of any alleged unpleasant experiences were evidence that she had been "programmed" by "well-meaning" parents and therapists to substantiate their beliefs about what had happened to her.

Jamal Craig's attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez, said she will move to have the other charges against her client dismissed.