Delay forces reversal of conviction Prosecutor took longer than 180 days to open burglary trial; 'I just goofed, I suppose'; Mother of freed man calls judge's ruling 'heck of a present'


An Anne Arundel County circuit judge reversed the burglary conviction yesterday of a man who could have been sentenced to up to 15 years and ordered his release because the prosecutor took too long to bring the case to trial.

Richard Johnson, 28, of the 100 block of Hammonds Lane in Brooklyn Park was released after Judge Eugene M. Lerner ruled that beginning Johnson's trial Oct. 30 violated state and federal guarantees of a speedy trial.

Johnson, who was jailed after a jury convicted him Oct. 31 of second-degree burglary, declined comment.

His mother said Johnson planned to return home, spend time with his two children and report to work today at the Glen Burnie manufacturing plant that employed him for about a month before he was convicted.

"This is one heck of a Christmas present," said Andrea Jordan, Johnson's mother.

But the manager of the Maxway discount store in Brooklyn Park, where the break-in occurred, was angry.

Ron Jones said Johnson's release was another example of a judicial system that seems unresponsive and out of touch.

"It's out of control, it's just out of control," Jones said.

He said he had to drive to the Annapolis courthouse three times before the trial began and he has not recovered about $400 for the lost merchandise, broken shop window and time off for him and his employees to appear in court.

Johnson's lawyer, John H. Robinson III, told the judge that his client's previous attorney should have asked for dismissal when the trial began Oct. 30 because prosecutors exceeded the 180-day period set by state law in scheduling the two-day proceeding.

The clock begins running when the defendant or a lawyer makes an initial appearance in court.

"He was convicted in a trial that really never should have taken place," Robinson said at the two-hour hearing.

A jury found Johnson guilty of breaking into the Maxway store in the first block of Hammonds Lane in Brooklyn Park about 3 a.m. Feb. 8 and stealing a case filled with watches.

Maryland laws -- based in part on federal constitutional guarantees of a speedy trial -- require criminal trials to begin within 180 days of the defendant's initial Circuit Court appearance or when his attorney enters a formal appearance.

Assistant Public Defender Rodney C. Warren entered his appearance April 9, which meant Assistant State's Attorney Joseph V. Reina should have scheduled the trial to begin by Sept. 27, Robinson said.

Reina said he had no explanation for why the trial date was set after the 180-day period. "I really don't have anything specific. I just goofed, I suppose," he said.

Warren acknowledged that he should have objected in October to the trial date, which was set by Reina after three postponements. "It was an oversight, and it was ineffective assistance of counsel on my part," Warren said.

This was the second time in three years that Anne Arundel prosecutors were forced to drop charges because the 180-day requirement was exceeded.

Damien A. Day, charged with attempted murder in the shooting of two Annapolis youths, was released Sept. 28, 1993, when his lawyer pointed out just before trial that his client had been waiting more than 180 days.

Pub Date: 12/12/96

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