ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has upheld a decision to allow a retrial for a former Gouldsboro man convicted last year of raping his wife.
Vladek Filler, 41, was found guilty at the end of a four-day trial in January 2009 of one count of gross sexual assault and two counts of assault, but was acquitted of other charges of gross sexual assault and assault. He had been accused of assaulting his then-wife at their former Gouldsboro home in December 2005 and in April 2007, but there was no physical evidence of the alleged crimes.
Filler said that his marriage was deteriorating and that his wife fabricated the allegations in order to win custody of their two young sons. During Filler’s trial, however, Justice Kevin Cuddy would not permit Filler’s defense attorney, Daniel Pileggi of Ellsworth, to question Filler’s wife about her efforts to gain legal custody of her children. The judge decided to bar such testimony after the prosecutor, Assistant Hancock County District Attorney Mary Kellett, argued that doing so would create a “confusion of the issues” before the jury, because the trial was about the criminal assault charges rather than the custody dispute.
The judge did allow Pileggi to say that the marriage was deteriorating and to suggest that a child custody dispute was likely after Filler’s wife reported the alleged assault to police.
Filler subsequently appealed the conviction, saying the testimony should have been allowed, and was granted a request for a new trial. That decision was appealed to the Law Court, which on Sept. 9 upheld the lower court decision to grant Filler a new trial.
According to the supreme court decision, testimony about the legal steps Filler’s wife had taken to gain custody of the children “was relevant because it made a fact of consequence — whether she had a motive to fabricate her allegations of abuse — more probable than not.”
The court also ruled that the jury likely would not have been overly confused by the introduction of the custody testimony during the trial.
In addition, the court determined that Kellett’s rebuttal during closing arguments “amplified” the prejudice to Filler that resulted from the exclusion of the child custody testimony.
After Pileggi, during his closing arguments, referred to Filler’s deteriorating marriage and the likelihood of an ensuing child custody battle, Kellett told the jury there was no such evidence of a “first step” in a child custody fight.
According to the court, Kellett’s closing comment contributed to the resulting prejudice against Filler. The comment could have been remedied “by a curative instruction” from Cuddy to the jury, the decision states, but none was given.
Contacted Friday, Kellett declined to comment about the supreme court decision. She said a new defense attorney is expected to argue Filler’s case at the retrial but she is not sure who that will be.
The new trial for Filler likely will be held in Hancock County Superior Court sometime next year, Kellett said.