Delaware Man Spent 2 Years in Jail With No Trial on 'Relatively Minor' Charges
NEW CASTLE, DELAWARE - MAY 25, 2018
Charges are set to be dropped against a Brandywine Hundred man who spent nearly two years in jail without a trial over accusations he threatened to kill his grandmother.
In recommending the dismissal of charges against Kenny Cooper, 46, New Castle County Superior Court Commissioner Bradley V. Manning called the Delaware Department of Justice delay in prosecuting the defendant, "frankly perplexing."
“The fact that the state has allowed Cooper to languish in jail on relatively minor charges — while it did nothing — is unacceptable and has forced the court’s hand,” Manning wrote.
Cooper, who could not be reached for comment, was arrested in May 2016 after his grandmother, 84, told police that he pointed a finger in her face during an argument and said "I'm going to kill you," arrest records state.
She told police he had leveled the threat multiple times and that she feared for her safety, according to court records.
Another family member told police she was on the phone with the victim and overheard a similar threat, according to court documents.
Cooper needed to put up $200 to be released on bail but couldn't afford it. The judge rejected a request by David Skoranski, an assistant public defender who represents Cooper, for a reduction in bail.
He was jailed at Howard Young Correctional Institution.
The threatening charge is typically a misdemeanor but because the victim in this case is elderly, it became a felony. The recommended sentence for that charge is nine months of probation, Skoranski said. The maximum sentence is two years in jail.
The menacing charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail.
His trial was set for November 2016. The day it was to begin, Cooper began making abnormal requests, Skoranski said.
Court filings detail that Cooper "demanded to remain in his prison attire during the anticipated trial because that was the 'truth' of what was happening."
"Things I thought were eccentricities turned out to be more than eccentricities," Skoranski said.
The trial was delayed as the court ordered a psychiatric evaluation, which found Cooper was not competent to stand trial.
He also refused treatment and in July 2017, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the court agreed a new evaluation would occur. The result of the evaluation, performed the next month, was the same: He continued to refuse treatment and remained in jail.
In September 2017, prosecutors indicated they would file a motion to have Cooper involuntarily medicated to restore his competency so he could stand trial.
Skoranski said it was prosecutors' place to file that motion as he couldn't do something against the wishes of his client. The court ordered prosecutors to file the motion by the end of October 2017.
But no motion was filed and Cooper continued to sit in jail. With each passing month, the court inquired about the motion with no response from prosecutors, court records show.
Skoranski moved to have the case dismissed in November, arguing the state's "lack of action" violated his client's constitutional right to a speedy trial.
By that time, he was "at a loss" for why it had taken so long for the state to file the motion, he said.
After repeated court inquiries, prosecutors responded by asking the court to reject the motion to dismiss. Their response, filed in February, did not address Cooper’s competency nor did it ask for an order to have Cooper medicated, court documents state.
Deputy Attorney General Kelly Sheridan contested Skoranski's motion to dismiss by arguing that the state was only responsible for six months of delay. Cooper was also responsible for the case dragging on, Sheridan wrote.
The Manning opinion, filed earlier this month, sided with Skoranski and noted that prosecutors knew about Cooper's condition and the likelihood it would not change since January 2017, but failed take action.
“The only conclusion I can draw is that the state has no interest in restoring Cooper to competency but is unwilling to drop the charges against him," the commissioner wrote.
Manning's opinion also ordered a new bail hearing last week in which Cooper was released from jail nearly two years after his arrest. It is now up to a judge to sign off on the recommendation to dismiss and end the case.
In a written statement, Nicole Magnusson, a DOJ spokeswoman, said the "state agrees" that it "should have responded more promptly and directly to the court's request" for a motion to have Cooper involuntarily medicated.
She said "it should be noted" that 17 of Cooper's 24 months in jail were not attributable to the state's inaction. She said prosecutors will not challenge the motion to dismiss again.
"It is a really unfortunate case for the victim and the fact the defendant was held for two years without a trial," Skoranski said.