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Rapist held in mental hospital must be tried or freed, court says

March 13, 2013 | 12:29 pm

A California prisoner who has waited nearly nine years for a trial must be given his day in court or released, a federal appeals court said Wednesday.

Bobby Joe Knight, a convicted rapist, served a 20-year sentence and was supposed to be released in 2004, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said. But before his release date, California prosecutors filed a legal petition to incarcerate him in a state mental hospital on the grounds he was likely to reoffend because of a mental disorder.

Instead of proceeding to a civil trial on the state’s petition,  Knight’s lawyer repeatedly sought to postpone the legal proceedings, the 9th Circuit said.

"For its part, the government either acquiesced or agreed to the continuances," the panel said. "No effort was made to push the case to trial."

Knight tried from behind bars to get a new lawyer and then challenged his confinement himself.

In ruling for Knight, the 9th Circuit said California prosecutors must try him within 90 days or let him go. The panel stressed that no further delays should be granted except for "compelling and extraordinary" reasons.

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-- Maura Dolan in San Francisco

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