It was last August that Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court decided to again let counties charge people with a crime using an indicting grand jury and the revival has been met with complaints from more than a few defense lawyers.
And none has complained more than veteran lawyer L. George Parry, who on Monday lost a fourth round in his ongoing fight to extract information – any information -- from Assistant District Attorney Joseph McGlynn about the charges against former police officer Richard DeCoatsworth.
“Pick a date,” Parry groaned during the hearing before Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Ehrlich. “We have two witnesses who can’t agree on which date they were raped.”
DeCoatsworth, 27, whose career has taken him from “hero cop” to criminal defendant, is charged with raping two women some time from late on May 14 to early May 15 after he held them at gunpoint and forced them to take drugs. Parry calls the women “demonstrable liars” who were prostitutes and drug users before they met DeCoatsworth.
Parry told Ehrlich that it’s impossible for him to develop an alibi defense if he doesn’t know the time and date of the alleged rapes.
First, some background.
The Supreme Court’s decision on grand juries was designed to help Philadelphia's criminal court system, which for most of the last decade has been trying to cope with an epidemic of witness intimidation and retaliation. Previously, someone who was arrested would have a preliminary hearing several weeks later where a Municipal Court judge decides if there is enough evidence to hold the person for trial. The preliminary hearing is the first chance for the defendant and his or her lawyer to hear key evidence behind the charges. For some defendants, it was also a good chance to put the fear of God or worse into an already nervous witness and some witnesses developed amnesia or recanted what they told police.
An indicting grand jury puts some space between accused and accuser. The witness testifies in secret before a panel of 13 to 23 grand jurors, guided by a prosecutor and without the defendant or defense attorney present. And after the grand jury recommends criminal charges, the evidence stays secret until it is handed to the defense 60 days before trial.
Which brings us back to Parry, who wanted Ehrlich to order McGlynn to turn over contact information for the two alleged rape victims so he could try resolve the time-date discrepancy.
McGlynn, of course, objected and Ehrlich agreed, telling Parry he would get contact information for the witnesses 60 days before DeCoatsworth’s trial
“I understand that those are the rules,” Parry replied, “but I must say that my hands are tied … I am not able to conduct a competent investigation.”
“In New York, you get the information the day of trial,” Ehrlich said. “Here we give it to you 60 days before trial.”
Blocked again in his campaign to get information, Parry pivoted and made a new pitch to the judge to further reduce DeCoatsworth’s bail, which started at $60 million when he was arrested in May and was reduced to $3 million in July by Ehrlich. DeCoatsworth would have to post 10 percent -- $300,000 in cash or property – to be released pending trial on March 3.
Parry said DeCoatsworth’s father, Mark DeCoatsworth, is willing to take out loans on several properties that would yield $100,000 – enough, if bail is lowered to $1 million.
Parry called DeCoatsworth a “former police officer and celebrity defendant,” and told the judge “it simply is not a safe situation for him in jail. I want to get him out of there before something bad happens to him.”
Ehrlich, however, said bail would remain at $3 million and told Parry notify city prison officials if circumstances justify changing where DeCoatsworth is held.
DeCoatsworth was arrested at his Port Richmond house on May 18 after a standoff with police. Parry said DeCoatsworth has been hooked on prescription painkillers since 2007, when as a 21-year-old rookie he was lauded as a hero after he survived a shotgun blast to the face. Bleeding heavily and returning fire, DeCoatsworth chased his attacker several blocks before collapsing and radioing for help. DeCoatsworth returned to active duty in 2008 but in 2011 retired on disability related to his injuries from the 2007 shooting.