It seems Virginia law may consider Charles Edward "Ed" Hicks to be like Larry King and Zsa Zsa Gabor -- a person who gets married a lot -- but not a bigamist, at least when it comes to his seventh and most recent wife.
The revelation helped Hicks, 61, avoid trial on bigamy charges yesterday in Fairfax County when prosecutors dropped the case, for the time being.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Katie Swart said that while probing Virginia's thorny legal landscape surrounding bigamy last week, she realized that Hicks's latest marriage, to Fairfax resident Sandra Goldin Hicks in 2003 -- the nuptials upon which the case rests -- might not qualify as bigamy.
Swart said she hopes that will be clarified with a ruling on Sandra Hicks's civil suit against Hicks, which is set to be heard in November. Depending on the outcome, Swart said, Ed Hicks could be charged again.
"If we can prosecute it, then we will prosecute it," Swart said. "But as I see it, I perceive some evidentiary problems."
Hicks, who works for the Army Publishing Directorate in Alexandria, was charged with bigamy in May. The charge carries a minimum sentence of two years, but on those rare occasions when bigamists are convicted, most of the jail time is suspended.
Court records show Hicks has been married seven times in 40 years and remains married to two women: Julie Flint Hicks of Utah and Sandra Hicks. But no matter what the record says, Virginia law, Swart concluded, could say otherwise.
Here, Swart said, is where the problem lies: Under Virginia law, if someone who is already married gets hitched a second time, the two-timing spouse is guilty of bigamy, but the second marriage is not valid. So if the spouse marries a third time after the first marriage is ended, he may be immune from bigamy charges on that marriage because the second marriage never counted.
The big -- and as yet unanswered -- question is whether Sandra and Ed Hicks headed to the altar while Ed Hicks was lawfully wedded to another.
Sandra Hicks spelled out a fuller explanation, one worthy of a flow chart: When she married Ed Hicks, he was still married to wife No. 6, Julie Hicks, she said. But in the view of the Commonwealth of Virginia -- and this is where it gets complicated -- Julie Hicks's April 1997 marriage might not have been a marriage at all, because Hicks was not divorced from wife No. 5, Rose Sewell Hicks, until three weeks after he married Julie.
If that is the case, then Hicks was divorced from Rose Hicks and had never been legally married to Julie Hicks when he and Sandra Hicks exchanged vows. So Sandra Hicks's marriage might have been perfectly legitimate.
"They can bring the case again, but they are not going to be able to prove bigamy," Hicks's attorney, Ronald Simpson, said outside the courtroom yesterday. Simpson said Hicks is "dealing with some scorned women who are very angry."
There could be another twist yet: Julie Hicks, who flew to Fairfax to testify in the canceled trial, said she has asked authorities in Chesapeake, Va., where she and Hicks once lived, to charge him with bigamy for their marriage. She said she spoke to a police detective in Chesapeake yesterday.
Meanwhile, she is planning to have her marriage to Hicks annulled, even if it never really happened.
"I'd like to be able to say I was never married to this man," Julie Hicks said.
Sandra Hicks said she was "a little bit upset" that the case was dropped, but she said she understood why.
"While we would like to have had some resolution today, we are willing to wait," she said. Whether it turns out she is indeed married to Hicks or never was at all, Sandra Hicks said she would make sure Ed Hicks's marrying ways are laid out in court.
"He's not going to stop preying on innocent women," Sandra Hicks said. "We're not angry. We're not scorned. We're much better off without him . . . and we don't want him to do this to any other women."