ROCKVILLE, Md. – A Liberian native once facing child rape and abuse charges in Maryland now is considered a "free man" by local police, a week after a judge dismissed his case.
Mahamu Kanneh, 23, was indicted in December 2004 on nine counts of rape, sex abuse and child abuse related to allegations involving Kanneh's two nieces — one 7 at the time, and the other 18 months old.
Last week, a Montgomery County, Md., judge dismissed the case on grounds that Kanneh's rights to a speedy trial were violated. The local prosecutor is appealing the decision.
The case was complicated further because Kanneh spoke a Liberian dialect, Vai. He also spoke English, but the court ruled he needed an interpreter. However, interpreters were hard to come by forcing delays at points in the court proceedings.
Montgomery County Police told FOX News on Tuesday that Kanneh is a considered a "free man" under the current ruling — and jail officials say he was not required to surrender his passport.
The county prosecutor's office, however, said Monday that it still considers the case a pending criminal matter. A spokesman for the Montgomery County State's Attorney did not have an immediate response when asked for comment about Kanneh's travel status.
That Kanneh is free to roam might make a difference in a case that is now going into a possibly lengthy appeals process.
The Maryland Attorney General's Office handles all criminal appeals in the state, but spokeswoman Raquel Guillory warned that the case is not going to be resolved overnight.
"It's not going to be something that happens in the next two weeks or anything like that," Guillory said. She said it could even be two to three months before the case goes before the panel of judges on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the state's second-highest court. And there's no telling how long it would be before the court issued a ruling in the matter.
She noted that a felony rape case appealed by the defense was argued in March before the Court of Special appeals, but a ruling has yet to be issued.
Should the state fail to overturn Savage's ruling at this stage, state lawyers likely would have up to two more chances. The state could then file for certiorari — basically a request to be heard before the state's highest court. If certiorari is denied, then Savage's ruling is upheld. If the court grants certiorari, the state could then argue before the state high court. But because there are no federal charges involved, the case cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
On July 17, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Katherine Savage dismissed Kanneh's case only days before it was set to go to trial. Noting several continuances, including ones that were because of problems finding translators, she said, "What we come back to when too much time has passed is that it's the defendant who holds speedy trial rights."
Yet on July 17 an interpreter was in the court translating the proceedings for Kanneh.
In connection with the toddler, Kanneh was charged with one count of sexual abuse of a minor, and one count of third-degree sexual offense. The other seven counts of the case — which included second-degree rape, sexual abuse of a minor and second- and third-degree sex offense — related to the 7-year-old. Both girls were nieces, according to court documents.
Monday, Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy that the delays were the court's fault because it was unable to make sure interpreters were present, not any fault of his office. He added that interpreters were able to appear on four other occasions throughout the case. He vowed to fight the ruling in the state's appellate system, reinstate the charges and take the case to trial.
A spokesman for McCarthy's office on Tuesday said he was confident the courts would rule in the prosecutors' favor but declined to say what would happen if they lost the appeal.
"We are confident we are going to prevail, and we're not going to deal in hypotheticals of defeat," spokesman Seth Zucker said.
But a Maryland attorney in private practice who handles criminal cases in the appellate courts said it's not clear yet who has the upper hand in the case.
"Far more cases get affirmed than get reversed," said Andrew Levy, who also is a law professor.
But on the other hand, appeals by prosecutors succeed "far more often than do defense appeals," tipping the balance toward prosecutors.
He said that judges generally do not take speedy trial decisions lightly, and said Savage "must have thought it was not a close call if she dismissed a case. ... It does not happen very often to get a case dismissed on these grounds."
"She must have felt that the prosecution had nine lives, and this was the tenth," Levy said.
FOX News' Kristin Brown, Gretchen Gailey and Greg Simmons contributed to this report.