Montgomery County, Maryland Circuit Court Judge Katherine Savage dismissed three year old charges of child rape and sex abuse against Mahamu Kanneh. The Judge said the nearly three years of delay violated the Liberian immigrant’s right to a speedy trial.
According to the Washington Post, Savage said “This is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make in a long time.” She added she was mindful of “the gravity of this case and the community’s concern about offenses of this type.”
Kanneh demanded an interpreter of the Vai language, spoken by about 100,000 people, mostly in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Prosecutors argued Kanneh was not entitled to a translator. They pointed out that Kanneh attended high school and community college in Montgomery and spoke to detectives in English. A court-appointed psychiatrist recommended Kanneh be provided a translator and judges who handled subsequent hearings heeded the advice.
Officials could not find a competent interpreter of Vai who would stay in the case. The first interpreter couldn’t handle the testimony and quit. The second was rejected for faulty work. A third had to bail out to attend to a family emergency. The Washington Post, however, reported that it identified three Vai interpreters in one day, including one in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Prosecutors said the dismissal, after they searched exhaustively to find an interpreter, was fundamentally unfair. They have not yet decided whether to appeal the decision.