- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) The top prosecutor in Harford County has asked the Justice Department to remove U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio from a case against a man accused of killing an 8-year-old girl.
State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly is criticizing Mr. DiBiagio for pursuing federal extortion charges against Jamal Abeokuto instead of turning him over to authorities in Harford County, where Mr. Abeokuto could face the death penalty.
The battered body of Marciana Ringo was found in Harford County in December.
In a Jan. 31 letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, Mr. Cassilly wrote that Mr. DiBiagio has "severely damaged federal-state law enforcement relations."
Mr. Cassilly also wrote: "With all of the pressing crime problems that we face, how can the U.S. attorney waste resources on a poor imitation of a state prosecution?"
A spokeswoman for Mr. DiBiagio declined to comment.
Mr. DiBiagio said in January that his office would try the extortion case first as a way to secure a 20-year federal sentence in addition to the sentence he could face if he is convicted in state court.
Mr. DiBiagio's office provided the Baltimore Sun with a copy of a Justice Department letter in which a department official sought to assure Republican U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrist that the case was being handled properly.
Mr. Gilchrist, Maryland Republican, had raised concerns similar to Mr. Cassilly's.
Federal prosecutors also suggested in court papers filed Monday in Baltimore that Mr. Cassilly may have compromised the federal and state cases against Mr. Abeokuto. Prosecutors said that is because he asked the state police crime lab to halt DNA testing on the envelope Mr. Abeokuto is suspected of using to mail a ransom note to Marciana's family.
Mr. Cassilly said he intervened with the crime lab only in an attempt to get evidence results, which he said were delayed at least a month by federal prosecutors' requests for additional testing.
Mr. Cassilly said the delay in obtaining crime lab evidence was one of several complications caused by the federal prosecution of Mr. Abeokuto.
Mr. Cassilly also said he has asked that state prosecutors be allowed to try their case first. He said he has received no response to repeated requests that Mr. DiBiagio explain why the federal charges should take priority over a state murder case.
"I've been doing this for 26 years, and I've never had a U.S. attorney who has been this irrational and this difficult to work with," Mr. Cassilly said.
A Justice Department official said a letter sent to Mr. Cassilly on Tuesday indicated that officials in Washington hoped the two offices could reach a "mutually beneficial accommodation."

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