Tuesday, August 21, 2007

"Chess community" sought to intimidate Wamala witness

From the Nashua Telegraph:
The trial of a city man, [Severine Wamala], charged with raping three women was delayed Monday after prosecutors learned that two of the three women appear to have backed away from previous statements to police....

Judge Bernard Hampsey said he postponed the trial until Sept. 4 over the "strenuous objections" of Wamala and his lawyers. The trial had been scheduled to start Monday morning in Hillsborough County Superior Court.

On Monday, however, Wamala’s lawyers presented information to prosecutors stating that two of the three alleged victims, who together account for 12 of the 34 charges against Wamala, told an investigator last year police pressured them into making statements during the interviews in which they reported the alleged rapes.

The women’s interviews with police were recorded, and police found other evidence, including a diary, to corroborate their statements, prosecutors have said....

It’s not clear to what extent, if any, the women have changed their statements, but both women assured Hampsey they are willing to testify truthfully and without any help from court-appointed lawyers.

Prosecutors had suggested the women risked incriminating themselves on false report charges if they recanted their statements to police, and also said there is evidence hinting they may have tried to persuade the third woman not to testify against Wamala.

So far at least, the third woman continues to cooperate with prosecutors, however....

Here's more from the Lowell Sun:
Prosecutor Rusty Chadwick sought the postponement so that the judge could conduct a hearing to see if any of the alleged victims' testimony may violate their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Specifically, Chadwick said that two of the older alleged victims gave tape-recorded statements to the Nashua police on Sept. 12, 2006, indicating Wamala had raped them. One even has a diary in which she made note of it.

Two months later, the two women gave statements to the public defender's office suggesting they had been "intimidated by police to give those statements."...

In the incident of alleged witness tampering, Chadwick said the youngest alleged victim received an anonymous letter and e-mail in February from the "chess community" in which she was urged to drop the charges against Wamala, a highly respected chess champion, or she would be responsible for his death.

Chadwick suggested the handwriting in the letter seemed to be consistent with one of the other victims and one of them could have forwarded the e-mail to the younger victim.

Although the two older alleged victims were assigned court-appointed lawyers to explain to them the allegations, neither victim would cooperate.

"The pressure I got from the state. ... I want to keep my distance. I don't want to be threatened anymore," one of the alleged victims told the judge.

The other simply said, "All I'm here to do is to tell the truth."

Neither woman would reveal whether they might recant their allegations against Wamala, but Hamsey said that was a problem the prosecution would have to deal with.
By the way, I plan to e-mail the Lowell Sun to let them know that their characterization of Severine as "a highly respected chess champion" is not accurate. Regarding his chess activities prior to his arrest, it would be better to refer to him as "a highly respected chess organizer."

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