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Harford County judge denies motion to move Naeshawn Perry murder trial to another jurisdiction

The trial of Naeshawn Perry, charged with first- and second-degree murder in the death of Maleigha Solonka in August 2017, is scheduled to begin Wednesday in Harford County Circuit Court.
The trial of Naeshawn Perry, charged with first- and second-degree murder in the death of Maleigha Solonka in August 2017, is scheduled to begin Wednesday in Harford County Circuit Court. (Courtesy Harford County Sheriff'/BSMG)

A defense motion to move the trial of Naeshawn Jaheim-Troy Perry, who is charged in the 2017 homicide of 15-year-old Maleigha Solonka, out of Harford County was denied by a Circuit Court judge Monday morning.

Perry and his public defenders, Kelly Casper and Andrew Geraghty, appeared before Judge Paul Ishak Monday for a hearing on a motion by the defense to move the case to another jurisdiction after too few jurors could be found during the initial start of the case in late October.

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Geraghty emphasized two factors in his request for a change of venue. The first was threatening messages directed at Perry that had been found scratched into the walls of an elevator in the Harford County Courthouse in Bel Air in October.

The second factor was pre-trial publicity in the form of heavy coverage in the local Harford County newspaper, The Aegis, including a story published the day jury selection was scheduled to start that contained information — based on court records — about Perry facing unrelated rape charges when he was arrested and charged in the death of Solonka in 2018.

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Perry, a Havre de Grace resident, was 17 when he was charged in the homicide case. He was initially charged as an adult in the 2017 rape case, but he was remanded to juvenile status. Geraghty, who was concerned information about the unrelated case could prejudice a juror in the murder trial, said he has worked to get Perry’s juvenile record expunged.

Geraghty argued that the voir dire process of selecting a panel of 12 jurors “is not sufficient” in Perry’s case because of the heavy pre-trial publicity in Harford County media and that his client has the right, under the Maryland constitution, to have his trial moved to a different jurisdiction.

Assistant State’s Attorney Dair Pillai, representing the prosecution, expressed confidence that voir dire would work when a new jury is selected in March. She noted that potential jurors had been struck in the fall “for a host of reasons.”

Geraghty responded that it is unknown if members of the previous jury panel were being honest.

Voir dire has not shown itself to be an efficient way of getting Mr. Perry a fair and impartial jury,” Geraghty said.

Ishak brought up the matter of courthouse vandalism, noting no one on the panel had seen the messages threatening Perry.

“Yes, fortunately, this time,” Geraghty replied.

The judge noted the messages had been scratched on a temporary wall in the courthouse elevator, a wall that has since been removed. He also stressed that officials had not pressed potential jurors enough about whether they could put aside what they have read in the media about the case and that information had been treated as “an automatic out” upon learning the person had read about the case.

“My sense is, I think we’re going to make it next time," Ishak said of jury selection.

The judge said he is “mindful” of the defense’s arguments but noted the last jury was only short by about four people. Ishak denied the defense’s motion but said he would reconsider “If we do run into this [problem] again, which I’m hopeful we don’t.”

Perry is charged with first- and second-degree murder in the death of Solonka, of Edgewood, whose body was found Aug. 16, 2017, in the woods in the 400 block of Webb Lane in Havre de Grace, six days after her family reported her missing.

The medical examiner said the cause of death was asphyxiation and it was ruled a homicide.

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Perry, who was 16 at the time of Solonka’s death, was arrested more than a year later, in August 2018.

In October, Ishak said that when Perry’s new trial begins in March, two full panels of jurors would be summoned to ensure a jury will be able to be seated.

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