Is Mahamu Kanneh — the accused child rapist from Liberia who has been given the benefit of the doubt time and again by criminal-friendly Montgomery County Circuit Court judges — an illegal alien? Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials won’t say, but ICE’s move to take Mr. Kanneh into custody certainly raises legitimate, serious questions about his immigration status. Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy took the unusual step of announcing ICE’s decision on Monday, shortly after Circuit Court Judge Ann Harrington ordered Mr. Kanneh released on his own recognizance after he missed an Aug. 3 court date and apparently moved to Philadelphia.
Here are the facts: A seven-year-old girl said she had been raped and repeatedly molested between September 2003 and August 2004 by Mr. Kanneh, who was arrested and charged three years ago. He was released on $10,000 bond, with the only restriction being that he have no contact with minors. We have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation of how someone accused of such a horrific crime could get such a low bail. Mr. Kanneh waived his right to be tried within 180 days of his indictment in order to permit his attorneys to conduct their own analysis of DNA evidence. Then the trial date was extended repeatedly as Mr. Kanneh’s attorneys and prosecutors wrangled over his demand for an interpreter who could translate Vai — an obscure tribal language spoken by roughly 100,000 people worldwide, nearly all of whom live in several West African countries.
Mr. Kanneh’s attorney insisted on an interpreter even though he had attended and graduated from school in the county and he spoke to his neighbors and to the police in English without any problem. But after a court-appointed psychiatrist recommended that he get an interpreter, several Montgomery Circuit Court judges tried in vain to find someone who could speak Vai. Court officials finally managed to locate such a person last month, but by then they had exhausted the patience of Circuit Court Judge Katherine Savage, who dismissed the charges against Mr. Kanneh — saying he had been forced to wait too long to go to trial. Mr. McCarthy, the state’s attorney, quite rightly appealed.
Mr. Kanneh was allowed to remain free pending the appeal. But he failed to show up for an Aug. 3 hearing on conditions for his release, and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department found that he had packed up his belongings and moved to Philadelphia. When police finally located him there, Mr. Kanneh tried to flee, but was captured and extradited to Rockville earlier this month.( His attorneys claim he was never told that he was expected in court Aug. 3.) Although Judge Harrington at least had the minimally good sense to require that Mr. Kanneh surrender his “travel document” (in court on Monday he claimed not to own a passport), he has proven himself to be a flight risk and should remain behind bars until the state’s appeal is heard.
We’re relieved to learn that for now, Mr. Kanneh remains in custody of ICE. But the agency hasn’t said how long it will hold him, and we should not have to continue to depend on the federal government to clean up the mess made by a dysfunctional court system in Montgomery County, Maryland’s largest subdivision, which is becoming a national joke.