Absent defendant guilty on 2 counts; Man who failed to get lawyer misses trial


What with no defense lawyer to object or cross-examine -- and no defendant in the courtroom -- a robbery, theft and assault trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court was over in less than an hour yesterday.

Manuel Aurturo Bautista helped pick jurors for his criminal trial Tuesday afternoon, because he had not hired a lawyer, but he missed the main event yesterday.

"I guess the defendant felt it was in his best interest not to show," juror William Siwak said later.

The jury convicted Bautista of theft and assault, but it was undecided on a charge of robbery so a mistrial was declared.

Despite several standard reminders from the court last year to get a lawyer, Bautista, a 22-year-old Glen Burnie resident, arrived alone Tuesday -- and asked the court to delay his trial because he had no attorney.

He got nowhere.

Judge Eugene M. Lerner, known for moving trials quickly, ordered jury selection to begin immediately.

Although Bautista had defense witnesses, he was ill-prepared to act as his own attorney.

"I even gave him a pen. In fact, I brought an extra pen and pad for him Wednesday," Assistant State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said.

But neither the defendant nor his witnesses were in court yesterday. Such absences are a rarity in the state's fifth-largest court. Attorneys said in a case or two a year, a defendant is absent or dallies too long in finding legal help.

Bautista's trial began with Lerner making the judicial pronouncement that the "court finds the defendant has voluntarily absented himself from the proceedings."

When prosecutors asked motel clerk Matthew Fontana to identify the attacker who had hit him in the face so hard it took 15 stitches to close a cut to his lip, he looked at the empty defense table.

"The victim said, 'It was the defendant yesterday.' I had to keep from laughing," Leitess said.

Bautista was accused of being one of two men who took more than $500 from the clerk of the Forest Motel in Glen Burnie on Aug. 5. The second person has not been identified.

Jurors apparently did not hold the vacant defense table against Bautista. While they found him guilty of theft and assault, they came out undecided on the robbery charge.

"You can't say they weren't fair," said public defender Alan Friedman, whose office represents poor people -- if they ask for help. "I think that is an incredible compliment to our jury system."

"This guy missed his day in court," juror Siwak said.

The judge issued a warrant for Bautista. A bail bondsman has a $50,000 interest in seeing him again. Court records indicate he was on probation for drug convictions.

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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