Judge Strikes Insanity Plea in Rape Case

Judge Strikes Insanity Plea in Rape Case

Trial set to proceed Sept. 19, despite defense’s objections.

In a Sept. 2 hearing, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James L. Ryan struck a plea of not criminally responsible by reason of insanity and denied a motion to further delay trial for Gujan A. Lee, the last defendant to face trial in the Sept. 6, 2004 rape of a Potomac woman.

Lee, 19, of Washington, D.C., is scheduled for a six-day trial beginning with an all-day motions hearing Sept. 19.

He has been indicted on charges including first-degree rape, first-degree sexual assault and robbery with a dangerous or deadly weapon. According to police reports, court documents, and statements made in court, Lee and four other men entered the victim’s home on Falls Chapel Way in the early morning hours of Sept. 6, 2004. Lee and two other men raped and sexually assaulted her in her basement bedroom, then stole items from the house, according to police and court documents. (See “Case History” box.)

Lee’s attorney Loyd Byron Hopkins and Assistant State’s Attorney Deborah Armstrong clashed before and during the sometimes contentious hearing.

They tangled over two intertwined issues — whether the court should allow the insanity plea and whether it should delay the trial to allow Lee to be evaluated by a psychologist and give Hopkins additional time to prepare his case.

Hopkins filed the insanity plea Aug. 22, less than two weeks after becoming the third attorney to represent Lee. Tara Harrison withdrew in March for personal reasons not related to the case.

Barbara Graham, a private attorney appointed by the Office of the Public Defender, replaced her and forged a plea agreement with Armstrong that would have limited Lee’s sentence to life in prison. Lee apparently changed his mind during the Aug. 1 hearing to confirm the plea and asked for a trial.

Graham left the case after Lee submitted a letter saying he was unsatisfied with his representation, according to Armstrong. That made way for Hopkins, who said he received a desperate call from the public defender’s office asking him to take over on very short notice.

Graham said that Hopkins is a highly regarded attorney, considered tough in court and known for occasionally taking very difficult cases.

IN A WRITTEN response to the insanity plea, Armstrong cited Maryland Rule 4-242(b)(3) which states that “a plea of not criminally responsible shall be entered at the time the defendant initially pleads, unless good cause is shown.” Neither of Lee’s previous attorneys raised the issue of criminal responsibility and Lee has already been evaluated by a psychologist once, at Graham’s request, Armstrong said.

She also said in court that she believes Lee was “manipulating the case” by scrapping the plea agreement, changing attorneys, and orchestrating the insanity plea. She suggested that the goal might be to delay the trial long enough to have it assigned to a different judge. Some attorneys have said that Ryan is considered a tough sentencer.

Hopkins objected strongly to those assertions, saying Lee is not a litigator but a defendant entitled to every possible legal recourse.

Armstrong argued that pre-trial motions in the Lee case have already been delayed twice and the trial has been moved once — it was formerly scheduled for April 11, shortly after Graham’s entry. Graham moved to have it continued and won, over the state’s objection.

The result is that the victim has gone a year with the case “hanging over her head” and “allowing this untimely plea to occur would result in a miscarriage of justice,” Armstrong said in her motion to strike the plea.

HOPKINS ARGUED that only a CAT scan would reveal the “organic mental defects” he believes Lee has. The insanity plea motion said the defects were the result of Lee’s mother using crack cocaine while pregnant with Lee.

Hopkins also said that he has had only two weeks in which to catch up on a case history that includes thousands of pages of motions, statements, and other evidence, and hundreds of hours of video tape.

“It goes to whether or not [Lee] can get a fair trial,” Hopkins said in court. Without more time to prepare, “I can’t definitively say that he can.”

Ryan sided with Armstrong. He praised Hopkins for taking the case and said that as a former attorney, he understood the difficulty of Hopkins’ situation, but that Hopkins could have predicated his entry into the case on a request for a continuance. Hopkins made no such request.

“It’s wonderful for you to take a case, to help someone out,” Ryan said. “But what does the system have to do? … I’m not going to continue the trial date.”

Ryan did agree to move pre-trial motions to Sept. 19, the first day of the scheduled trail.

Hopkins reiterated several times that he was at a disadvantage in representing Lee on such short notice and that the court was unjustly rushing the case.

Ryan responded firmly to that statement.

“This case has not been rushed,” he said.