A report by Michael Kiefer of The Arizona Republic newspaper in the American state of Arizona says a trial for Liberian parents whose eight-year-old daughter was gang-raped by four boys is becoming more complicated than expected.
In 2009, two refugees from the African nation of Liberia were arrested in Phoenix and charged with seven counts of child abuse related to their daughter, then 8 years old.
They should have gone to trial or reached a plea agreement by now. But legally, they can’t.
They have no understanding of the American court system and no way to learn about it because they speak a tribal language so rare that court officials call an interpreter in Minnesota for help with every court hearing.
They have gone through years of competency evaluation, in a system that is geared chiefly toward the mentally handicapped. Yet they are perfectly sane. They simply don’t understand the basic concepts of court. And therefore, under the law, they cannot “knowingly” enter into a plea agreement or go to trial.
“The state has been cooperative and is trying to work with us,” said Gerald Gavin, attorney for the father. “But it’s impossible to take it to trial or enter a plea bargain in their state.” Sheri Lauritano, who represents the mother, added, “There is no place for people with cultural issues in the court system.”
On Monday, defense attorneys, the prosecutor and a Maricopa County Superior Court commissioner agreed to a new tack: To scuttle the usual competency process and improvise with something they are calling “cultural education.”
The Arizona Republic is not publishing the names of the parents to protect the privacy of their daughter, who now lives in foster care.
She was sexually assaulted in July 2009 by four boys, also from Liberia, who ranged in age from 9 to 14. The case had serious cultural and diplomatic repercussions on both sides of the Atlantic. The abuse charges against the parents had nothing to do with the rape, but the evidence emerged as the rape was being investigated.
All four boys have been adjudicated: the oldest was sent to a juvenile treatment facility, and the others were deemed incompetent to stand trial because of their age.
The parents have remained incompetent to stand trial, not for age — he is 61, she is 50 — or mental reasons, but because they are culturally so far from understanding the proceedings that they cannot legally enter a plea agreement.
There are not even words in their obscure language, Seaside Grebo, to describe the legal concepts. But all parties realize that they cannot simply drop the charges.
On Monday, with the approval of Commissioner Steven Holding, Gavin and Lauritano agreed with prosecutor Juli Warzynski to give a list of concepts to a court-appointed psychologist, who will prepare a crash course. That will be sent to the interpreter, who will record it on CD for the parents to study.
Source: The Arizona Republic