Thursday, September 10, 2015
In prior posts, I've discussed several other first-degree murder cases handled by Cristina Gutierrez while she was representing Adnan Syed in 1999-2000. In addition to these murder cases, Gutierrez also handled another case with a connection to Adnan's case and Gutierrez's own condition.
Melissa Carol Deckelman was an assistant to the president of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Maryland chapter, which is located in Hunt Valley. From January 1994 through October 19988, Deckelman allegedly stole $269,000 from the chapter, causing it "irreparable harm." Specifically, Deckelman had access to the chapter's checks and allegedly wrote out 214 of them to herself. Through this process, Deckelman was able to siphon off more than a quarter of a million dollars from the chapter, which provides information and activities for about 3,700 people with MS.
Deckelman's trial was initially scheduled for September 9, 1999, in Baltimore County, but that trial never happened. Instead, Deckelman's attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, negotiated an Alford Plea in December 1999. Deckelman's sentencing hearing was originally scheduled for January 12, 1999, but it appears as if it was postponed and eventually held on February 22, 2000. As a result of that hearing, Deckelman was given a three-year prison sentence and ordered to pay restitution.
The Deckelman case is interesting for a few reasons. First, Gutierrez herself was later diagnosed with MS in 2001, but her son has said she started suffering from its symptoms by the late 1990s. I wonder whether Gutierrez suspected that she might have MS back in 1999 and how it made her feel about the case.
Second, it's interesting that the prosecution accepted an Alford Plea in the case. As far as I can tell, this was a pretty open and shut case, and this seems like the type of case in which the State might have wanted Deckelman to accept responsibility for her crimes. Instead, the State was willing to accept Deckelman's acknowledgment that the there was enough evidence to prove her guilt without any accompanying acknowledgment that she committed the crimes charged. As you might recall, part of Adnan's current IAC claim against Gutierrez is that she was ineffective in failing to ask the prosecution about a plea bargain because he likely would have taken an Alford Plea after Gutierrez told him that Asia McClain didn't check out as an alibi witness.
Third, court was in session in Adnan's case on February 22, 2000. As such, I'm assuming that Gutierrez was not present for Deckelman's sentencing hearing. I wonder who went on her behalf.
Fourth, about a year and a half after she was done representing Deckelman, Gutierrez herself was found to have stolen roughly the same amount of money from her clients -- $269,235 -- as Deckelman stole from the Maryland chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.