Montgomery County prosecutors dropped charges yesterday against a man accused of ransacking an Orthodox Jewish school last year in Silver Spring, after a Circuit Court judge threw out the man's statement to police.
Judge Paul A. McGuckian ruled yesterday that prosecutors could not use Jeffrey Lee Eskew's statement to police that he was responsible for tens of thousands of dollars in damage at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington.
McGuckian said the statement was inadmissible because Eskew did not have an attorney present when he was interviewed in a Los Angeles jail by Montgomery police.
As a result of the ruling, the State's Attorney's Office, which had expected to try the case before a jury this week, decided that it no longer had enough evidence to win a conviction.
Eskew, 22, had been accused of the Dec. 26, 1989, break-in, a "hate-violence" crime that was the worst in a rash of vandalism last year in Kemp Mill, the largest Orthodox Jewish community in the Washington area. The rampage, on the fifth night of Hanukah, damaged every room of the boys' division of the small school, which has 183 students in grades 7 through 12.
Eskew was arrested in his native Los Angeles, where he was jailed on an unrelated robbery charge. In an interview with The Washington Post, Eskew said, "I did it basically to feel good about myself . . . . I felt like I had to prove to Satan and to myself that I'm better and more powerful than any person who's into God or some other religion."
He made similar statements to Montgomery police and a prosecutor who interviewed him in jail.
During a two-day hearing this week, Eskew's attorney, assistant public defender Donald Salzman, successfully argued that Eskew should have had an attorney present during that interview. Eskew did not specifically ask for one when he talked with the Montgomery detectives, but he had indicated that he wanted legal counsel in the unrelated Los Angeles robbery.
If the trial had taken place, Salzman said, defense witnesses would have testified that Eskew was elsewhere in Montgomery the night of the vandalism.
Yesterday, Rabbi Zev Katz, vice principal of the school, called the judge's ruling "tragic."
"Why is this technicality more important than the emotional pain and trauma we went through?" asked Katz.
Despite the dropped charges, Eskew remains in the Montgomery Detention Center, where he has been since January. He is awaiting sentencing on charges involving two unrelated robberies, committed in Montgomery about the same time as the Yeshiva break-in.
Originally, two other men were arrested in the school vandalism case. But in February, Montgomery authorities dropped charges against Donald Jay Wingo, of Damascus, and Forrest William Gerber III, of Gaithersburg.
Prosecutors said their arrests were based entirely on statements by Eskew and that police were unable to find additional strong evidence against them.