Monday, April 28, 2008

When the justice system befriends child molesters
Anderson Cooper

"...You're paying for the criminal justice system. We all are. And you're counting on it to keep you safe and uphold the principles you believe in. The truth is, though, it doesn't always work that way.

Money is wasted. Bad guys go free. Decent people get hurt, and government sometimes gets away with it.

This hour is about holding people accountable.

Tonight, we will look at how a man accused of raping a child could go free, perhaps never to be tried again, because the prosecution could not find him a qualified interpreter. It only took us a few hours on the phone to find one.

And it gets worse. He might not have even needed an interpreter at all. And the evidence of that was plain to see.

We begin tonight with a story that seemed utterly surreal to us when we first learned about it, an accused molester going free because the court couldn't find him a qualified interpreter.

And, the more we investigated, the stranger it got. And the more you hear tonight, the madder you will likely get. How could an accused molester go free?

...GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the man at the center of a legal storm, because of a bizarre technicality that is hard to believe, Mahamu Kanneh, charged with the horrifying crimes of raping and repeatedly molesting a 7-year-old girl and molesting a 1-and-a-half-year-old girl, both relatives of his.

But now the charges against the Liberian immigrant have disappeared.

JOHN MCCARTHY, MONTGOMERY COUNTY PROSECUTOR: We believe that that decision to dismiss these charges was improper.

TUCHMAN: Why were such serious charges dismissed? Because a court clerk was unable to find an interpreter fluent in the rare language known as Vai who could stay through the entire trial. A court-ordered psychiatrist told the judge an interpreter was necessary.

MCCARTHY: The bottom line is that any delays caused by an attempt to find an appropriate and qualified interpreter is not attributable to the prosecution and legally was the responsibility of the courts and should not serve as the basis for dismissing the charges against the defendant.

TUCHMAN: But Judge Katherine Savage disagreed, saying on the bench, "This is one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make in a long time." She cleared the charges because she says the long delay violated Kanneh's constitutional right to a speedy trial.

"Keeping Them Honest," we investigated what went wrong. An estimated 100,000 people in the world speak the West African tribal language of Vai.

The court office in Rockville, Maryland, says it worked hard to find someone anywhere in the country who could be with the suspect during the trial. Over two-and-a-half years, it couldn't successfully do so...

TUCHMAN (on camera): This story strikes high on the outrage meter. But what may be more outrageous involves the question over whether Kanneh needed an interpreter to begin with, because CNN has learned that Kanneh graduated from this Maryland high school back in 2005, one of the best high schools in the state, where, most certainly, you need to know more than Vai to get by.

(voice-over): At Magruder High School, a student is not allowed to get a diploma without passing four years of English. A source in the school says Kanneh did not even find it necessary to take the English-as-a-second-language course that is offered. And there's more.

JEREMY BROWN, NEIGHBOR OF MAHAMU KANNEH: It's right there, number seven.

TUCHMAN: Jeremy Brown currently lives next door to Kanneh.

(on camera): And how long have you lived here?

BROWN: About a year.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): We wanted to talk to Kanneh about his case and his language skills, but nobody was home in apartment seven. So, we asked his neighbor this.

(on camera): Does he speak English?


...TUCHMAN: So, on a scale of one to 10 of English proficiency, what would you say he had?

BROWN: Probably a seven or eight.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): No one, from the judge, to the court clerk, to Kanneh's public defender, would speak to us about the case, because prosecutors have filed an appeal. An appellate court would have the authority to make the charges reappear. But, if the appeal fails, Mahamu Kanneh will not ever go to trial on these charges...

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