- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Could the end be in sight in the case of Mahamu Kanneh, a Liberian man who has succeeded in avoiding trial for child rape charges in Montgomery County for more than three years? Immigration authorities have announced that they will try to deport Mr. Kanneh, whose next immigration court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday. On Sept. 19, U.S. Immigration Judge Elizabeth Kessler refused to set bond in Mr. Kanneh’s case, calling him a flight risk and a danger to the community. It was a stunning turn of events for Mr. Kanneh, who until last month had benefited from technical loopholes and other absurdities in Maryland law and the Montgomery County court system.

In August 2004, Mr. Kanneh was indicted on charges of raping a 7-year-old girl who was a relative, and for fondling an 18-month-old girl. For nearly three years, Mr. Kanneh remained free on a $10,000 bond while his attorneys insisted (and got a court-appointed psychiatrist to agree) that he be provided with a translator of an obscure African language called Vai — even though he graduated from Montgomery County Public Schools and appeared to be fluent in English. After many months of searching, a Vai interpreter was found and was present in Montgomery County Circuit Court on July 17. But that was too late for Circuit Court Judge Katherine Savage, who dismissed the charges on the grounds that Mr. Kanneh’s right to a speedy trial had been violated.

The state appealed, and Mr. Kanneh failed to show for an Aug. 3 court hearing. Police and federal marshals tracked him to Philadelphia, and he unsuccessfully tried to run away when they came to arrest him there. Mr. Kanneh was extradited to Montgomery County last month, and appeared before a different Circuit Court judge, Ann Harrington, on Aug. 27. Despite the real possibility that Mr. Kanneh would try to run away once again, Judge Harrington allowed him to remain free pending appeal. But before the defendant could leave the courthouse, he was taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), where he remains to this day.

It is unclear whether Mr. Kanneh is in the United States illegally. The charging document used to detain Mr. Kanneh says that he entered the United States illegally; other reports describe him as a “refugee,” which means that he entered the United States legally. (For its part, ICE has yet to say publicly what his immigration status is.) But this much seems clear from outward appearances: ICE and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy deserve praise for the way they worked together to ensure that Mr. Kanneh remains behind bars while authorities determine whether he remains in the United States.

Based on his attempt to flee while in Philadelphia, this defendant is clearly a flight risk. But thanks to the teamwork of ICE and county prosecutors, we don’t have to worry that he will skip town before his next immigration hearing.

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