High Court Upholds Rape Conviction

BERLIN – A Maryland Court of Special Appeals judge this week upheld the conviction of a Berlin man sentenced in January 2008 to 40-plus years in jail for the first-degree rape and assault of his long-time girlfriend and mother of his child, denying the convicted felon’s appeal of the case on two major fronts.

In December 2007, a Worcester County jury took just 45 minutes to return guilty verdicts on Preston Lewis Whaley, Jr., 45, on first-degree assault and first-degree rape charges for an incident in August 2007, which was just the latest in a long and sordid pattern of abuse on the victim. A little more than a month later, Whaley was sentenced to 40 years in jail, but quickly filed an appeal in the case citing a handful of problems with his trial at the Circuit Court level.

For example, Whaley asserted in the appeal the Circuit Court erred in allowing the admission of his 1995 conviction on cocaine distribution charges into evidence during the trial, which he believes prejudiced the jury against him despite the absence of any connection between the crimes. Whaley also alleged there wasn’t sufficient evidence presented to suggest his sexual relations with the victim were not consensual. In both cases, Court of Special Appeals Judge Robert A. Zarnoch this week denied Whaley’s appeal.

The judge ruled despite the lack of a real nexus between the 1995 cocaine distribution conviction and the rape and assault charges Whaley was facing in the 2007 case, its admission into evidence during the trial was valid and did not prejudice the jury.

“The appellant asserts the trial court abused its discretion in allowing testimony regarding his prior 1995 conviction for distribution of cocaine,” the opinion reads. “He argues the connection between his prior 1995 conviction and his credibility in defending a rape charge is tenuous and that prejudice to the defendant outweighed the evidence’s probative value. We disagree.”

As to the second allegation alleged by Whaley in his appeal, Zarnoch ruled the facts of the case rather easily included sufficient evidence for the first-degree rape and assault convictions, noting the use of a knife in the commission of the crimes.

“In order for the appellant’s conviction to be sustained, there must be proof that appellant engaged in a sexual act with the victim by force or threat of force against her will and without her consent,” the opinion reads. “We find that there is sufficient evidence in the record that any rational finder of fact could conclude that the appellant committed first-degree rape. We therefore find no error.”