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Court allows reversal of conviction to stand


The state's highest court has refused to review the reversal of a cocaine-distribution conviction of a Westminster man believed to be serving the longest prison sentence for drug dealing ever handed down in a Carroll County court.

Without comment, the Court of Appeals last week declined to review Noland Maurice Rheubottom's case. Earlier this year, the Court of Special Appeals reversed Rheubottom's cocaine distribution conviction of Jan. 20, 1993, his third in four years.

That court said Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. failed to instruct the jury about incorrect statements made by a county prosecutor in his closing arguments.

In refusing to review the case, the high court has paved the way for Carroll prosecutors to retry Rheubottom. Prosecutors have not set a new trial date.

At the end of the three-day trial, Carroll Assistant State's Attorney Barton F. Walker told the jury that reasonable doubt -- the standard of proof prosecutors must overcome to secure a conviction -- is a doubt that can be written down on a piece of paper.

"Put reasonable doubt in perspective," he said. "Consider the evidence, and unless you've got a pretty good reason why you think the person's not guilty, unless you can articulate that reason . . . I submit to you it's not a reasonable doubt."

Edward T. Barry, then-assistant Carroll public defender representing Rheubottom, objected to those remarks and asked Judge Beck to instruct the jury about reasonable doubt. Judge Beck overruled the objection.

That was a mistake, the Court of Special Appeals said in its opinion.

Rheubottom is serving 45 years in state prison, 25 of them for the overturned conviction. It is unclear what effect an acquittal in his new trial would have on the amount of prison time Rheubottom would serve, since about 20 years of his sentence was imposed because the third conviction violated terms of parole in two prior cocaine convictions.

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