Attorneys for James Howard VanMetre III are using Maryland's trial-scheduling rule to thwart prosecution of their client, an assistant state's attorney claimed in Carroll Circuit Court yesterday.
The rule requires prosecutors to try a criminal defendant within 180 days of the appearance of an attorney in the case.
It "is being used here as a sword," said Assistant State's Attorney Christy McFaul during the second day of VanMetre's pretrial motions hearing.
VanMetre, 35, was indicted in December 1991 on first-degree murder charges in the strangulation of Holly Ann Blake, 28, whose burned remains were found Oct. 6, 1991 on a Harney farm.
VanMetre's attorneys are arguing that the murder indictments against him should be dismissed because state prosecutors failed to ask a judge to waive the 180-day rule.
VanMetre was indicted on Dec. 5, 1991, but he wasn't extradited to Carroll County until Jan. 20, 1993.
In their attempts to keep the indictments, prosecutors yesterday presented witnesses who testified to the defendant's lack of availability for trial because he was being held for trial in Pennsylvania on unrelated first-degree rape charges.
He was convicted of first-degree rape in July. He has filed post-verdict appeals of the conviction, and is awaiting sentencing in the case.
Prosecutors began extradition proceedings last fall, but were unable to reach an agreement with Pennsylvania authorities on bringing him to Maryland until early January, testimony yesterday showed.
Defendants usually aren't extradited until all charges pending against them in the other jurisdiction are settled, according to testimony yesterday.
In Carroll, cases customarily are scheduled for trial as soon as a defendant is served with an indictment.
But in VanMetre's case, he was not served with the indictments until Jan. 20. A trial date was not set until after Oct. 30, 1992, when VanMetre's attorneys, Assistant Public Defenders Martha Ann Sitterding and Louis P. Willemin, filed their dismissal motion.
In that motion, VanMetre's attorneys argued that they entered their appearance in the murder case on Dec. 13, 1991, and that his trial should have been scheduled before June 10, 1992.
The hearing continues today before Carroll Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold.
If the judge rules in favor of the defense, the indictment would be dismissed and state prosecutors likely would appeal his decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
In addition to the trial-scheduling rule, numerous confessions about the killing made by VanMetre are at issue during the pretrial hearing.