Pubdate: Mon, 01 Nov 2004
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2004 The Washington Post Company
Author: Boniface K. Cobbina
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Opinion)


I was disappointed and profoundly saddened by Chief Judge Rufus G.
King III's Oct. 22 letter about The Post's coverage of the death of my
client, Jonathan Magbie. The judge's letter appeared calculated to tar
my client with unproven allegations and to shift the blame for his
death to others.

Judge King knows that jurors are instructed not to consider an
indictment as evidence or inference of guilt beyond the fact that it
is the procedure by which charges are brought against defendants. The
able attorneys of the United States, after more than 15 months of
investigation and deliberation, dismissed the gun and cocaine charges
against Mr. Magbie in exchange for a plea to simple possession of marijuana.

The prosecutors also did not oppose Mr. Magbie's being sentenced under
the provision of the law that allowed his arrest and conviction record
to be wiped clean following completion of a probationary sentence.

It is the province of Judge Judith E. Retchin to sentence Mr. Magbie
to a term of incarceration as she did; it is her judgment and the
wisdom in doing so that are at issue.

Mr. Magbie's arrest and plea of guilty to the marijuana charge were
his first and only ones; the pre-sentence report determined that he
was not a danger to the community. Notably, that report reiterated
that Mr. Magbie required around-the-clock nursing care. The probation
officer assigned to prepare the report observed that Mr. Magbie
experienced continual muscle spasms during his interview.

In sentencing Mr. Magbie, Judge Retchin said that she had checked with
the chief judge's office the pre-vious week and that the jail should
have been able to accommodate Mr. Magbie's medical needs. If the
doctor at the jail called to say that Mr. Magbie should be in the
hospital, as the chief judge stated, the information would tend to
dispute the initial assessment that the jail was able to take care of
Mr. Magbie. Judge Retchin then was empowered to modify the sentence
she had imposed the previous day. Judge King may not now rely on an
exacting analysis of the information received from the doctor or the
application for discretionary relief by counsel without the benefit of
said information.

Judge Retchin is reported to have said that she was led to believe
that Mr. Magbie's medical needs could have been met at the jail; the
court spokeswoman, however, reportedly said that the full extent of
Mr. Magbie's paralysis was inadvertently not relayed to the chief
judge's office [Metro, Oct. 1]. The issue that Judge King must address
is the due diligence -- or lack thereof -- of his office regarding the
ability of the jail to accommodate Mr. Magbie's medical needs.

Judge King is a good and decent man, but it is time for leadership,
not cheerleading or self-serving statements.