A Montgomery County judge yesterday allowed a county grand jury to withdraw several kidnaping indictments it handed up last April in connection with a "deprogramming" incident.
As a result of Circuit Judge Philip M. Fairbanks' ruling - which the judge believes is unprecedented in the county's history - six of the nine persons originally accused of kidnaping a 23-year-old follower of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon no longer are charged with any offense.
Among the six are the mother of Karen Marie Mischk, and several other parents of members of Moon's Unification Church.
Three other persons originally accused in the case remain under indictment on Kidnaping charges.
"It would set a dangerous precedent to change those indictments at this stage," Fairbanks said, explaining that the indictment against the three young deprogrammers have already been followed by other court proceedings, including arraignments and the setting of a trial date.
The six defendants whose indictments were recalled all live in North Carolina, and had been fighting extradition in the case. As a result, no court proceedings had followed their indictments. "The court doesn't even have jurisdiction over them yet," the judge said.
In the course of his ruling, Fairbanks explained that a grand jury does have the power to request the recall of an indictment that they had voted earlier, but that final approval of such a request must remain the court's decision.
The attorney for the three deprogrammers who remain under indictment - Mark Conley, Michael McAvoy, and Paige Stetson - expressed shock that the judge should have differentiated between the defendents and allowed some, but not all, of the indictments to be recalled.
"This comes as a complete surprise," said attorney Albert D. Brault. "I find no basis for the dichotomy in the judge's decision."
Brault has filed an appeal of Fairbanks' ruling, which will now go to a three-judge panel of the county Circuit Court for review.
Brault added that he is now conferring about the case with Deputy State's Attorney Timothy E. Clarke, the prosecutor involved. The trial is set to start Sept. 6.
The alleged kidnapping of Karen Mischke took place last March 21, when Mischke was staying with relatives in Montgomery County. Mischke's mother, Anne Metsger, and the other eight defendants allegedly took her to North Carolina, where they stayed for several days while they tried to "deprogram" her - make her renounce her allegiance to the Unification Church.
Some of the defendants allegedly then were driving Mischke back to Maryland when they stopped at a gas station on the Capital Beltway. Mischke then jumped from the car and called Montgomery County police.
Neither Brault nor Clarke knew yesterday why the grand jury changed its mind about the indictments and why the jury asked Judge Fairbanks two weeks ago for permission to withdraw them.