Manassas Journal Messenger | Attorneys seeking to bar testimony from witnesses

Defense attorneys for the Maryland man accused of stalking women along Route 29 are seeking to bar testimony from prosecution witnesses who were hypnotized eight years ago to enhance their memories.

Two women, victims of the Route 29 stalker in 1996, testified Thursday at a pretrial hearing that they had undergone hypnosis therapy to try to recall more about their encounters with the stalker. One of the two testified that while in hypnosis, she was able to retrieve a license plate number from her subconscious.

But defense attorneys argue that Virginia law is clear: no evidence refurbished by hypnosis can be used at trial.

Their client, David Darrell Rice, 37, is scheduled to stand trial in April for assaulting a Manassas woman in 1996. Prince William Circuit Court Judge William D. Hamblen will rule later on the admissibility of the previously hypnotized witnesses.

Rice, of Columbia, Md., is charged with robbery, abduction with intent to defile and malicious wounding. Prosecutors allege Rice picked up Carmelita Shomo on Dumfries Road, and then tried to attack her with a screwdriver in February 1996. Shomo, then 38, escaped. They allege he lured Shomo into his truck by claiming sparks were coming from under her vehicle and offering her a ride. The description is similar to the descriptions of some 30 other women who claim that a man in a pickup stopped them along U.S. 29, claiming something was wrong with their cars.

Prosecutors argued that witnesses would merely testify about their positive identification of Rice as the man who stopped them.

Prosecutors have identified six women who positively identified Rice from a lineup in 2002, whom they want to testify at Rice’s trial.

Those memories weren’t tainted by the hypnosis, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney William E. Jarvis argued.

“Our position is it’s clear the two women were hypnotized,” defense attorney James G. Connell III said after the hearing. “Anything which comes out during hypnosis and any testimony related to hypnosis [is inadmissible.] They’re trying to prove that identity was not discussed [during hypnosis.]”

Hypnosis can relax the brain into retrieving memories from the subconscious, according to expert witness John Boyd, a clinical psychologist who practices hypnosis therapy at his Charlottesville clinic. But Boyd also said that a therapist must be extremely careful in order to not taint the patient’s memories while hypnotized. The mind is very suggestible while in hypnosis, Boyd said.

Defense attorneys have also sought to bar other “bad acts” from Rice’s trial, so far to no avail. But Thursday, after some verbal sparring, Judge Hamblen agreed to hear the defense attorneys’ arguments about the six witnesses’ eligibility before the trial, possibly next week.

At least two more days of pretrial motions are scheduled before Rice’s trial begins in April.

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