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Archive for Tuesday, October 6, 1998

SUSPECT IN RAPE CASE WANTS JURY CONSULTANT

October 6, 1998

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A judge delayed a decision on whether to allow a suspect in a sexual assault case to hire a jury consultant for his Feb. 1 trial.

The attorney for a man accused of sexually abusing children is asking a judge permission to hire a jury consultant, against the protests of the district attorney's prosecutor.

Court-appointed attorney David Brown appeared before Douglas County District Judge Robert Fairchild on Monday to request funds to hire a consultant who will help choose jurors in the case against James Underberg.

Underberg, 56, Baldwin, was charged Feb. 8 with two counts of rape and four counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. He appeared in court for the motions hearing.

Underberg helped run a family-owned horseback riding school in southwestern Douglas County prior to his arrest.

Assistant Douglas County Dist. Atty. Mark Knight said Brown -- who has already asked to spend $2,000 on a sleepwalking expert -- is asking for too much. Statutes specifically call for defendants to have an ``adequate'' defense.

``He doesn't get to have a Cadillac,'' Knight said. ``He gets to have an adequate trial.''

Fairchild asked Brown to research more cases, to see if there are any appellate court rulings that hinged on whether a defendant's request for a jury consultant was granted. Brown and Knight said preliminary searches for such cases at the state level so far were fruitless.

Fairchild did not rule on the motion but asked Brown to submit a memo on what past cases dealt with the issue. Fairchild did, however, express his doubts about the need for the expense.

``I have trouble believing this is required in order to have a fair trial,'' Fairchild said.

Brown and Knight also will submit to Fairchild a list of questions to ask potential jurors during the jury selection process. The questions are in response to Brown's motion asking that he be able to screen each potential juror individually instead of in an open courtroom with other potential jurors listening. Fairchild said he will review the questions before making a decision.

The judge also asked Brown to submit a memo detailing his attempts to get information from a social worker who interviewed one of the three alleged victims. Brown said he's heard rumors that the girl recanted earlier accusations of sexual abuse against another man.

Fairchild said Brown can subpoena the social worker and the records, but the social worker's testimony would come during the trial. Brown said he needed knowledge of the records prior to the trial. Fairchild also can order a deposition, in which a witness is questioned under oath before a trial.

Fairchild will give Brown 20 days to complete a memo detailing why he needs the social worker's testimony and documents before issuing his ruling.

Underberg remains in the Jefferson County Jail in Oskaloosa in lieu of $340,000 bond. Douglas County has a contract with area counties to house inmates because of overcrowding at the local jail.

Fairchild postponed Underberg's trial until Feb. 1 to deal with Brown's various motions. Fairchild told Underberg he would be waiving his ``right to a speedy trial'' with another continuance. Underberg accepted the delay, but Knight was against it.

``The victims in this case would like for it to be resolved and over with,'' he said.

-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is ckoger@ljworld.com.

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