ANNAPOLIS- A former Havre de Grace councilman may be retried on sex abuse charges because his accuser could have benefited financially from his conviction and jurors weren’t told.
On Wednesday, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned the child-sex-abuse convictions of Charles A. Maslin III and ordered the Harford County Circuit Court to rehear the case. If a new trial occurs, Maslin could be granted bail and be freed from the Roxbury Correctional Institute in Hagerstown.
A year ago, Maslin was convicted of second- and third- degree sexual offense and child abuse and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The appeals court determined that information withheld during the trial could have shown the jury an ulterior motive on the part of Maslin’s accuser, James Waters.
Waters might have profited from his testimony, which was one of the chief elements in convicting Maslin, because he was suing Maslin for $1.6 million in a civil suit. Now Maslin has the opportunity of a retrial and Waters faces the prospect of enduring another legal rehashing of the abuse he says he suffered almost 20 years ago.
Before it reaches that point, the state can, within the next 45 days, appeal the decision to Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. David J. Taube, a staff attorney in the attorney general’s office in Baltimore, said it would be several weeks before an appeal decision is made.
“That decision hasn’t been made yet,” said Taube, who argued the case before the Court of Special Appeals in November.
If it were up to Assistant State’s Attorney M. Teresa Garland, she would definitely appeal, and she plans to retry the case, should it come to that. Garland is the prosecutor who first tried the case in 1997. “I think the court is wrong,” said Garland.
“When you’ve done what you believe is your very best and [have] a very clean case,” Garland said, “a reversal is a surprise.”
Waters testified that Maslin, then 23, began abusing him when he was just 9 years old. The abuse, he said, occurred intermittently over five years in the early 80s. In the original trial, Waters blamed Maslin for subsequent drug use and an attempted suicide.
Maslin admitted during the trial that he had had sex with Waters, apologized and resigned his council position. At his sentencing, Maslin revealed that he had also been molested in his youth.
Before any testimony at the trial, the state filed a motion to block information regarding the civil suit.
“The problem with allowing the civil suit in during the trial was my concern that the jury would not be able to separate [that] from the reason we were there,” Garland said, “which was the sex abuse of a young boy that occurred years ago.”
At issue in the appeal was whether or not Maslin’s defense lawyer should have been allowed to cross-examine Waters about his civil suit. The appeals court held that criminal defendants have a Sixth-Amendment right to cross- examine negative witnesses. That means the defense has a right to show that a witness may have a reason to testify falsely.
“A jury could consider the pending $1.6 million lawsuit as evidence that Waters had a significant financial stake in the outcome of the criminal proceedings,” the court concluded.
The lower court erred by not letting Maslin’s attorney present that information, the court said.
“Waters was the only witness against Maslin that could testify to these events,” said Melissa Moore, the assistant public defender who argued Maslin’s case before the Court of Special Appeals. “Maslin has a Sixth Amendment right to cross-examine with anything that would show [Waters’] bias or interest.”
Moore was pleased with the court’s decision. “I think it’s the right thing. His Sixth-Amendment right was violated and I think he deserves a new trial,” she said. “And [this decision] may well make a difference in the outcome.”
Moore sees the chances for a retrial as good, even though the state may opt to appeal the current decision.
While it’s hard to predict whether or not such an appeal would be heard, Moore is fairly confident it will not. “I’d be surprised if it went to the Court of Appeals,” she said. “Of course, I’ve been surprised before.”
Should the trial make its way back to Harford County, Assistant State’s Attorney Garland will be ready. “It will be retried if the reversal stands,” she said. In that event, Maslin could ask to be released on bail, until his new trial comes up. For now, he will remain at Roxbury prison. -30-