AUGUSTA — A defendant accused — but not convicted — of assault and other crimes has been in jail for nearly seven months because he cannot afford bail.

The attorney for Frank Tripp of Augusta filed a motion for a speedy trial Tuesday, which was granted by the judge but is still unlikely to result in any action until spring. The continued delay is due to concern jury trials could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.

Tripp’s attorney, Matthew Morgan, said the 52-year-old can’t afford the $5,000 cash bail that was set for him, and he’s remained in jail since June. He noted the coronavirus pandemic has meant courts are unable to honor defendants’ constitutional right to a jury trial, since none are taking place, and Tripp’s bail has not been reduced.

“Frank is understandably very frustrated with his position,” Morgan said. “He has been in custody for over six months and had two requests to reduce his bail denied, despite his lack of ability to pay such a high bail and the court’s inability to give him a trial.

“He has lost his job, apartment and all his personal belongings,” he added. “He is prepared to defend himself in court, but for reasons outside his control the courts are closed.”

The courts aren’t fully closed, but are operating in a limited manner as part of efforts to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Superior Court Justice William Stokes said Tuesday he doesn’t expect jury trials to resume in Kennebec County until the spring.

Stokes said he would grant Morgan’s speedy trial motions, but it doesn’t mean one will be scheduled and held immediately. His OK just means, Stokes said, that when jury trials resume, Tripp will get one.

“I’m troubled by the fact he’s been sitting there for seven months without, really, a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of when we’re going to get him a jury trial,” Stokes said. “But the risk of bringing in 150 jurors (from whom to select a jury) is just too great for us to do. We all want to get back to trials as soon as we can.”

Prosecutor Tyler LeClair, an assistant district attorney, said the state is prepared for a trial in Tripp’s case as soon as is possible.

“We’ll absolutely have a trial at the earliest possible date,” LeClair said by a video stream broadcast into the courtroom at the Capital Judicial Center. “We’re not trying to slow this down by any means.”

Authorities have sought to limit in-person court appearances by encouraging attorneys to take part in hearings by video.

Morgan said the firm where he works, McKee Law, has filed a handful of similar motions in other cases for its clients during the pandemic and expects more to be filed before trials finally resume.

He said he filed the motions in Tripp’s cases to “create a record of Frank’s continued detention without reasonable bail,” not because he expected a trial for him to be immediately scheduled. Morgan indicated in court he understood there may be no trials until spring and he wasn’t pushing for jury selection now, “but I want to make it very clear Mr. Tripp wants a jury trial.”

If the state were to seek to delay Tripp’s case further once trials resume, Morgan said he would file a motion to dismiss the case. By then, he noted, Tripp would have spent close to a year in jail without having a trial or being convicted.

Morgan said Tripp had two requests to lower his bail denied by judges other than Stokes.

Stokes said the unusual circumstances of the pandemic and the coronavirus’s increasing spread may mean Tripp’s bail could be reviewed again. He said it might make sense for judges that sit in Kennebec County to discuss how they review bail for defendants, given the uncertainty of when jury trials will resume.

Morgan said Tripp’s bail was set at $5,000 cash, or $3,500 cash with an agreement with Maine Pretrial Services to watch over him while he’s on bail. He sought, unsuccessfully, to have a judge reduce Tripp’s bail to $500 cash with an agreement with Pretrial Services. He said the high amount of $3,500 was troubling because the Pretrial Services were meant to make release from jail for people unable to afford cash bail an option.

Tripp faces three charges: theft, assault and criminal mischief. He was indicted on the assault and theft charges by a grand jury in July. The alleged assault, according to the indictment, took place June 11, and the theft April 27, both in Augusta. The assault charge was elevated to a class C felony charge due Tripp’s criminal history, which according to the indictment includes six domestic violence assault convictions since 2011.

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