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Prosecutor Appeals After Judge Drops Rape Charges Against Liberian Over Lack of Interpreter

The prosecutor in the case of a Liberian native charged with repeatedly raping and molesting a 7-year-old girl said Monday that he is filing an appeal of a controversial judge's ruling that dismissed all charges because an interpreter who spoke the suspect's rare West African dialect could not be found.

Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy called the ruling last Tuesday by Judge Katherine Savage "improper," adding that his office has "requested that an appeal be taken to reverse the court's order."

Savage ruled on July 17 that Mahamu Kanneh, a Liberian who received asylum in the U.S. and attended high school and community college here, was denied a speedy trial after three years awaiting a court-appointed interpreter who could speak the tribal language of Vai. Linguists estimate that only 100,000 people speak Vai.

Savage called her decision one of the most difficult she's had to make in a long time, especially since she was aware of "the gravity of this case and the community's concern about offenses of this type."

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Det. Omar Hasan wrote in the charging document that the victim "attempted to physically stop the behavior from the defendant, but was unsuccessful," the Washington Post reported. Kanneh threatened the young girl "with not being able to leave the apartment unless she engaged in sexual behavior with the defendant," Hasan wrote in his report.

McCarthy charged the delays cited in Savage's order to dismiss the "result of the court locating a qualified interpreter," and not the fault of the prosecutor.

"The fact is on four separate occasions this court provided Vai interpreters," McCarthy said, adding that one of the interpreters had agreed to participate in further proceedings.

Court records, meanwhile, show that an interpreter was "sworn" by a Maryland court on the same day Savage dismissed the case, FOXNews.com has learned.

Loretta Knight, a clerk with the court system in Montgomery County, Md., claimed she had been unable to find an interpreter to stay on the case, even after an exhaustive search that included the Liberian Embassy and courts in 47 states.

But a look at the court docket for July 17, the day the case was dismissed, shows the entry "Interpreter sworn.” Several items below in the docket, Judge Savage “grants defendant’s oral motion to dismiss case based on a speedy trial violation.”

A review by FOX News of the audio from that hearing shows, however, that an interpreter was present throughout the entire court proceeding, during which time Kanneh's lawyer, Theresa Chernosky, argued that her client had not been able to get a good job because of unresolved rape charges.

Chernosky is heard also telling Savage that her client works at a gas station, and has not signed up for school because of the uncertainty about his future.

The translator can be heard throughout the entire hearing.

Savage, however, notes to that the events in the case were "unforeseeable, truly difficult in terms of the interpreter issue."

She then tells the court that "in spite of herculean efforts on the part of the state's attorney ... time has become the enemy."

"What we come back to, then ... too much time has passed, is that it's the defendant who hold speedy trial rights."

The Washington Post reported, however, that Kanneh had waived his rights to a speedy trial.

Why Savage dismissed the case when records indicate an interpreter had been sworn is just one of several questions raised by an examination of records by FOXNews.com.

Records from a case-worker report dated Oct. 31, 2006, show that the case worker visited Kanneh's residence to check on him and instead found another sex offender, Sehkou Massaquoi, at the home along with two male children who shared the last name of the defendant.

Massaquoi is currently on probation and “was associated with the same victim” as the defendant.

"The defendant was not at home at the time," the case worker's wrote. Later in the day, however, Kanneh spoke to the case worker and told him “he was unaware that those children were in his apartment while he was there. He just comes home from work and goes to his room every night.”

A Nov. 1, 2006, report from the clinical psychologist, Joseph G. Poirier, noted that the defendant came to the U.S. in September 2001.

The report states that Kanneh was born in Monrovia, Liberia, on May 19, 1984, but at a “very young” age moved with his family as refugees to Guyana, where he was introduced to English (Guyana is an English speaking country in South America, a former Dutch colony that later became a British possession before independence in 1966).

“Presently, Mr. Kanneh’s command of English was reasonably good, but he commented that at times he still did not understand English very well and would require continuing explanations until he did understand," Poirier's report also states. "Mr. Kanneh was aware of the allegations involving child sexual abuse, he was aware of the role of significant courtroom players.

"We found Mr. Kanneh to be responsive and able to meaningfully participate in the screening interview," the report continues. "Likewise, we would anticipate that he will be able to adequately assist defense counsel especially if time is taken to explain to him matters or events that he does not readily grasp because of his language/cultural background.”

Kanneh's mother, Florence, was the subject of separate charges last year, FOXNews.com has learned.

Hasan arrested Florence Kanneh on two charges of witness intimidation and two child abuse counts on April 5, 2006, according to court records.

Florence Kanneh was given probation before judgment on one of the child abuse charges of which she pleaded guilty on September 14, 2006. She also was ordered to have no contact with either of the witnesses.

The witnesses said, according to the charging documents from interviews taken on February 9, 2006, that "Florence Kanneh wanted them to retract their earlier statements" made to authorities.

In those statements, one of the witnesses said Florence Kanneh had threatened to send him back to Africa as well as threatened to use Voodoo on him if he didn't change his story to police.

According to the charging documents, one of the witnesses told authorities that Florence said, "She was going to use Voodoo on anyone that had lied about either Edward Massaquoi or Mahamu Kanneh."

The other witness said Florence Kanneh put him into an institutional home and said she would only release him if he changed his story. The witness also claimed that he "had been deprived of food" by Kanneh.

The witnesses at one time lived with Florence Kanneh, but no longer live with her.

And in another motion, filed only earlier this month, Mahamu Kanneh's defense lawyer levels an accusation at Hasan, the lead investigator. She wrote that because he is "potentially involved" in a scandal in the Montgomery County police department in which some officers worked as private guards during regular work hours, his credibility has been compromised.

The motion does not specify what Hasan's involvement may be, but she asked that crucial evidence be tossed, including DNA testimony and witness statements. The motion was never ruled on before the Kanneh's case was dismissed.

Click here to read the indictment.

FOX News, meanwhile, spoke with a man Sunday who claimed to be Kanneh in a five-minute phone conversation conducted in English. He said the allegations against him were false and the dismissal of the charges was "a good thing." Asked if the accusations were true, he responded, "I said what I had to say" and hung up.

The Washington Post wrote in its article that in just one night reporters were independently able to identify three Vai translators available to assist in the case. It noted that the need for interpreters has risen starkly in Montgomery County, Md., with the court system spending $1 million in interpreters in 2006, or 10 times the amount it spent in 2000.

According to witnesses, who originally reported the case to authorities, Kanneh allegedly repeatedly raped and sexually molested the girl, a relative. In a statement made by the girl to police, she said she had been told she'd be forced to stay in the apartment unless she had sex with Kanneh.

FOXNews.com's Greg Simmons and FOX News' James Rosen and Serafin Gomez contributed to this report.

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