A Prince George's County judge yesterday rejected a guilty plea to a misdemeanor assault and battery charge by University of Maryland defensive back Keeta Covington and ordered a jury trial.
The development came after the prosecution objected to a sentence reached in a plea bargain between Covington's attorney and Judge Vincent Femia.
Trial was set for April 28. A judge will be assigned to hear the case April 25.
During yesterday's hearing before Femia, Covington, a 21-year-old junior, admitted "there was physical contact" with Yvockeea Kim Gray in an Aug. 20, 1985 incident in Covington's campus dormitory room. But he said, "I didn't knock her to the ground," as Gray alleged in court documents.
Both Covington and his attorney, Jeffrey Weber, declined comment.
Under the plea bargain, in which prosecutors do not participate, Femia gave Covington a choice of accepting one of two sentences: a $100 fine with the outcome remaining on Covington's record or one night in jail with the record expunged after three years.
Weber said Covington chose the night in jail.
But James Jones, the assistant state's attorney trying the case, said the state wanted a stronger sentence -- at least 10 days in jail and supervised probation -- and asked for a presentencing investigation. He said this was necessary because of "the defendant's prior character," citing a civil damages suit Covington recently settled out of court.
Two criminal charges against Covington also arose from that case, which involved a February 1985 incident at the Rendezvous Inn, a bar near campus, in which a Maryland student alleged Covington knocked out three of his teeth. A charge of giving a false report to a police officer was dismissed and a misdemeanor assault and battery charge was put on stet docket, meaning the state could reopen the case if Covington got in trouble again.
Jones said yesterday in court the state does not plan to reopen that case. Femia told Jones he would not order a presentencing investigation in the present case because it was a waste of money and, concerning the request for 10 days in jail, said to Jones, "I bet you can't tell me anybody who got 10 days in jail for a simple assault."
In his office, Femia said the plea bargain he offered Covington was common in this type of case.
"The state objects. The simple way around it is [to] set a date for trial. Then no one can object," said Femia, who handles all criminal appeal cases from district court.
Said State's Attorney Arthur Marshall, "I just like the case tried and the case disposed of the way it should be with the state having its interests represented."
He said his office did not treat Covington any differently because he is an athlete.