Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Judge criticizes prosecutorís dismissal motion

Elgee alleges Ďprocedural gamesmanshipí in sex crime case

Express Staff Writer

A 5th District Court Judge has accused the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office of "procedural gamesmanship" in a recently dismissed case involving allegations of sexual abuse of a minor child.

Judge Robert J. Elgee made the accusation in an order dismissing the case. Released on Friday, the 15-page order is critical of Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas' handling of a criminal case that had been filed against Leonardo Dejesus Naranjo, a 22-year-old Bellevue man.

Naranjo was arrested and charged in April with sexual abuse of a minor child under 16 for allegedly fondling the genitals of a 14-year-old girl on March 27.

The case was dismissed on Tuesday, Oct. 28, as some 60 prospective jurors waited in court that morning for the trial to begin. Elgee told the prospective jurors that the prosecution "cannot or will not go forward today."

Elgee received that information in a pretrial conference earlier that morning when Thomas informed him that the prosecution would not present its case and would likely file two additional charges against Naranjo later.

It was Thomas' second attempt to have the case dismissed. At a hearing late in the afternoon of Oct. 27, Elgee had denied a prosecution motion for dismissal of the case.

Public defender Douglas Werth objected to the dismissal on both occasions, and told the judge that he and his client were ready for trial. Werth said he didn't think Thomas was playing fair, and Elgee apparently agreed.

Werth contends that Thomas was merely trying to undo a previous ruling from Elgee that disallowed testimony that Naranjo had allegedly had a sexual encounter with the girl on a previous occasion.

"They're just trying to do an end run on the judge's prior ruling," Werth told the Idaho Mountain Express last week. "The other two counts involved information about other allegations that the state was aware of at the beginning of this case. There was no new other information in the case, and they evidently chose not to charge it because the evidence was weak."

Elgee wrote in his order that "a dismissal attempt the night before trial was not in the interests of justice or the effective administration of the court's business. The court again determines that this dismissal is the result of the prosecutor's choice not to proceed at trial, after the court declined to grant the state's motion for dismissal, and for no other reason."

Thomas has not stated whether he will refile charges against Naranjo, and Blaine County court records showed no new charges against Naranjo as of Tuesday afternoon

Elgee covered the possibility of new charges in his order for dismissal and authorized Werth, at Blaine County expense, to seek an injunction with the Idaho Court of Appeals.

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