Judge orders trial delay, soldier freed over late evidence in Baumholder trial
Stars and Stripes March 14, 2006
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — A series of legal developments Monday resulted in a 1st Armored Division soldier walking free after 211 days of pretrial custody, even though he may ultimately plead guilty to some charges.
Spc. Samuel Bell, 23, was scheduled to go on trial Monday afternoon. He was charged with a number of offenses, including being an accessory to a fire that caused about $1 million in damages to Baumholder’s city government center. He is one of at least eight soldiers charged in last summer’s Baumholder crime wave.
However, Col. James Pohl ordered Bell released to his unit, Company A, 40th Engineers (Combat) Battalion, and his court-martial reconvened on April 3.
The delay came after Pohl, a 5th Judicial Circuit Court judge, ruled that the prosecution was late in sending some documents and a list of witnesses to the defense.
Those submissions were given to the defense last week, five weeks after Bell’s Feb. 8 arraignment and included a new witness who may give testimony potentially damaging to Bell.
“And you give that to defense three days before trial?” Pohl asked prosecutors Capt. Tyson MacDonald and Capt. Laura Calese.
The legal complication came after Pohl already had encouraged prosecutors to pick up the pace of proceedings during Bell’s arraignment, a significant legal issue because the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial.
The two-week recess gives Bell’s attorneys, Capt. Justin Evison and Capt. James Ford, time to prepare a defense in light of the late admissions — to interview the new witness and examine documents, Pohl said.
But, having his defense spend an unknown amount of time in interviews, follow-up questioning and planning “is not fair to Specialist Bell,” because Bell would spend even more time in pretrial detention, Pohl said.
Pohl ruled only the 16 witnesses ready to testify Monday would be allowed when the proceedings reconvene. He also ordered Bell to be released, although his unit can put “reasonable limits on his liberty” and return Bell to custody if he misbehaves.
At that point, Evison notified the court that Bell may plead guilty to some — though not all — charges. Evison and Ford declined to state exactly which charges in a separate interview.
Bell is charged with: