Ida Chase and her husband, Charles, are accused of killing 69-year-old salesman Julius Adelman in July 1996 during an apparent robbery in Northeast Washington. Three years passed before authorities believed they had enough evidence to arrest the couple.
The case has stalled ever since, making it the oldest untried murder in Washington, the Washington Post reports.
The trial has been postponed 11 times, nearly always because of requests by attorneys for Ida Chase, who has been jailed since her arrest in October 1999. She, like her husband, pleaded not guilty to the charges. Her husband, who was allowed to await trial in a halfway house, died last month at 57 after an apparent heart attack.
Ida Chase, 52, is due to stand trial July 12, but the Adelman family is not counting on it.
“There was a time I actually had faith and trusted the system,” said Steve Adelman, 41, the victim’s son. But, he said, “Each time we get into court and the defense makes a motion to delay trial, we get the rug yanked right from under us.”
Adelman blames the defense and the judges for the delays. Ida Chase’s attorneys from the D.C. Public Defender Service got postponements after citing reasons that included changes in attorneys, scheduling conflicts, the need for more preparation time and the necessity of conducting DNA tests under the Innocence Protection Act.
Murder trials in D.C. Superior Court typically begin within a year or two of an arrest. Lawyers said it is highly unusual for a murder case to stretch so long, in the District or elsewhere.
“In any jurisdiction, four years is at the extreme end of delays,” said E. Michael McCann, the district attorney for Milwaukee County and former chairman of the American Bar Association’s Committee on Victims. He said judges have a responsibility to move cases without sacrificing the defendants’ rights.
Three judges — Ann O’Regan Keary, Shellie F. Bowers and Patricia A. Broderick — have been assigned the case at various times. At one point in 2002, Bowers declared that no more continuances would be granted in the case; he later approved two more. The case is assigned to Broderick, who has granted requests for postponement on three occasions.
“Trial delays are always frustrating and problematic, and particularly so in this case,” said U.S. Attorney Roscoe Conklin Howard Jr., whose office repeatedly has sought to move the case forward. “There is much truth to the adage, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’ ”
Leah Gurowitz, spokeswoman for the Superior Court, said judicial and ethical guidelines prevent judges from commenting on pending cases. In general, she said, the court must balance the goal of swiftly administering justice with the need to give defendants effective legal representation.
Defense attorneys have maintained that there were valid reasons for the postponements and pointed out that Ida Chase has been affected by them, too.
“Ms. Chase is very eager to have her day in court, but she wants to have all the evidence she’s entitled to demonstrate her innocence,” said Julia L. Leighton, general counsel for the Public Defender Service. “And while this wait has been difficult for everyone, this has [also] been difficult for Ms. Chase, who has been held in jail since she’s been charged.”