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Virginia: Accused acquitted; community feels let down

February 08, 2010 21:11 IST

The Indian community in Northern Virginia was shocked and outraged after a Fairfax county judge dismissed charges against three people arrested in connection with a series of burglaries targeting Indian homes in the area for over a year.

Those who heaved a sigh of relief after the arrest of three individuals from New York City two months ago began panicking again.

"This is unbelievable. We have lost much faith in the judicial process," said Raman Kumar, one of the early victims of the serial burglaries.

The accused are still in jail pending one more charge and also several charges in the nearby Loudoun County.

Meanwhile, four more people were arrested in New York in connection with the burglary in more than 40 homes, which saw jewelry, electronics and other valuables worth more than a million dollars being lost. Some lost important documents like passports.

Kumar said the accused brought highly paid attorneys to plead their case and the prosecution and the witnesses could not withstand their tough questioning. Though some people had seen the burglars fleeing after committing the crime, none of them came forward to identify the accused. Kumar said he felt disheartened.

Some victims were present at the five-hour preliminary hearing January 20 in Fairfax county general district court.

Commonwealth prosecutor Kathy Stott presented photographs of a cell phone, a crowbar, two long screwdrivers, a police scanner and a pair of wire cutters found inside the vehicle. Judge Ian O'Flaherty reportedly said, 'You could find similar tools in any one of the million toolboxes in Fairfax county.'

The prosecutor noted that they were found not in a toolbox, but in a vehicle.

'You will have to tie the tools to the burglary in a better way,' O'Flaherty said, dismissing the tools as evidence. The judge did not accept the lotion and stone found in the hotel to test the quality of gold as evidence. The hotel's manager said the items were seen abandoned in a room and a cleaning lady placed them in a suitcase and put it in the hotel's lost and found.

The lady was not present to testify. O'Flaherty rejected all the evidence of cell phone calls to the landline of the victims to make sure if they were at home or not. The police scanner with them was tuned to the Fairfax county police department's frequency.

O'Flaherty then dismissed the case and exonerated the suspects.

Jaya Sapre, whose home was burgled May 29, was present in court. 'Oh my  God, what just happened? Are these  people free to go? I can't believe it,' she exclaimed.

The suspects will be back in the District Court February 24 to face another burglary charge. Other charges may be pending in Prince William County.

A spokesperson for the Fairfax county police told India Abroad that the investigations are ongoing. "This is not the end of these cases and there will be more to come," she said. She noted that there is a warrant out for an additional suspect, who has not yet been named.

'I assure you the officers who worked so hard on these cases are just as disheartened as you are,' noted Sophia Grinnan, crime prevention officer with the Fairfax county police department. 'Unfortunately, our legal system is set up so the very laws that protect us are subject to interpretation by judges. The downfall of the preliminary hearing was not due to loopholes in the written law or attorney experience but in evidentiary interpretation.'

After the arrests, no burglary was reported in the areas.

George Joseph