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Worcester County prosecutors appeal decision to dismiss charges for Tyler Mailloux

By Hunter Hine, Staff Writer

Judge says district court, not circuit, has jurisdiction in Mailloux hit-and-run case

(Aug. 24, 2023) Dorchester County Circuit Judge Brett W. Wilson granted a motion to dismiss all charges filed against Tyler Mailloux, 23, of Berlin, who was charged as the driver in a hit-and-run that killed 14-year-old Ocean Pines resident Gavin Knupp last summer.

The judgement came during a hearing at Worcester County Circuit Court in Snow Hill Friday morning on numerous motions filed by the prosecution and defense in the Mailloux case in which the defendant faced 17 charges in connection to leaving the scene of the incident.

The accident took place on Grays Corner Road around 10:30 p.m. on July 11, 2022, when Knupp was crossing the road and was struck by a vehicle. He was pronounced dead that night at Atlantic General Hospital.

The judge agreed with Mailloux’s attorney, George Psoras Jr., of Rice Murtha & Psoras LLC, in Lutherville, that Worcester County District Court had “exclusive original jurisdiction” over the first eight counts because they were traffic related, meaning prosecutors should have filed the charges in district court first instead of going to circuit court.

State’s Attorney Kristin Heiser said in a text after the ruling that the prosecution is disputing the decision in the Appellate Court of Maryland.

“We have already filed an appeal so the case is basically paused until we get a decision from the appellate court,” she said.

“How the case proceeds after the decision is handed down all depends on the decision of the appellate court and their legal reasoning,” she added on Monday.

Pamela Correa, assistant state’s attorney who represented the state at the motion hearing, filed an appeal at 12:25 p.m. on Friday, less than an hour after Judge Wilson issued his decision.

Michael Farlow, also an assistant state’s attorney, stood and asked the judge if circuit court has the authority to send the charges back to district court, to which Wilson answered that it does not.

“It is our understanding that the case was dismissed on procedural grounds and that decision is being appealed,” Knupp family attorney Neil Dubovsky said Monday.

Psoras said in court that since the charges have concurrent jurisdiction in both courts, Mailloux would have had the right to ask to move from district court to circuit court for a judge or jury trial. But, the charges would have had to be filed in district court first.

On Tuesday, the court filed Wilson’s order to dismiss the charges.

Four of the 17 charges were felonies, and two carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. All the charges were related to Mailloux’s alleged failure to stop at the scene or report it later.

Mailloux’s family members sat in the front-right seats of the courtroom. Mailloux entered and sat with them while waiting for the hearing to begin. Mailloux moved to sit beside Psoras at a table shared with the assistant state’s attorneys once the hearing started.

Psoras only made it through two of the 12 motions defense had filed over the last few months before the judge dismissed the charges and ended the hearing. Those two motions involved requests for dismissal of charges and a change of venue.

After the motions were heard, Wilson held a brief recess. When the hearing reconvened, the judge said that it had come to his attention that someone in the courtroom was live-streaming the proceedings, though he didn’t know who. The courtroom has a strict phones-off policy.

The judge ordered whoever was responsible for the streaming to stop, and said that if he discovered the person’s identity a contempt of court charge would follow.

At that point, Wilson granted the defense’s motion to dismiss charges and released Mailloux from pre-trial orders.

“We are thankful the court applied the law that led to the favorable outcome for our client Tyler Mailloux,” said Randolph Rice, managing partner of Rice Murtha & Psoras LLC.

“We wish to extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Gavin Knupp following the tragic loss of their beloved son. We understand that this is an incredibly challenging time for the Knupp family, and our thoughts and condolences are with them as they navigate through this period of grief,” Rice added.

Just after 1 p.m. on Friday, Mailloux filed a petition for expungement of records on the basis that the charges were dismissed. Through the document, Mailloux asks to remove “all police and court records pertaining to” the charges.

Social media backlash on the Do It For Gavin – Justice for Gavin Facebook group ranged from harsh accusations of corruption and condemnation of the State’s Attorney’s Office for the perceived procedural mistake, to legal theories that the prosecutors were prepared for this outcome.

One Aug. 19 post from the Facebook group states, “Money talks criminals walk. Disgusting and heartbreaking.”

Some questioned how the state’s attorney could file charges in the wrong court after close to a year of preparation. Another poster responded, speculating that the move was part of a legal strategy.

Ray Knupp, Gavin’s father, posted on Facebook on Aug. 18, saying that the ruling doesn’t mean the case is over. There is a chance to bring the case to district court or to return to circuit court, pending the appeal, he wrote.

“The judge miss read (sic) the law and no one can understand why he made that ruling. We have already appealed it and will know in the next few weeks,” Knupp said in the post.

Knupp said that it could be in the Knupp family’s favor to have the case in district court, since prosecutors would only have to convince a judge instead of a jury.

“The downside is if he gets convicted he can appeal it to the Circuit Court and we have to suffer through the trial again and take another chance that it could get overturned,” Knupp said.

During Psoras’s argument for a change of venue (moving the trial to another jurisdiction), he argued that prejudice against Mailloux was so extreme across Worcester County that it wouldn’t be possible to hold a fair and impartial trial for him there.

“It’s already been decided, your honor, that my client has done this,” Psoras said.

Psoras cited the comments from the Facebook page Do it For Gavin – Justice for Gavin. The defense pointed out that Ray Knupp had at one point changed his Facebook profile picture to an image of Mailloux, with text pasted over it that read “F— you Tyler.”

The same phrase has been spray painted on the asphalt in front of the memorial for Gavin Knupp on Grays Corner Road, where the hit-and-run occurred, Psoras said.

In several instances, Psoras grabbed Mailloux by the shoulder and leaned down toward him as the attorney enunciated the phrase “F— you Tyler.”

Ralph DeAngelus, local businessman and boyfriend to Mailloux’s mother, Kearston Frey, lost businesses because of what Psoras described as a “mob” that has rallied against Mailloux and everyone connected to him.

There have been physical threats directed at Mailloux, his family and even his legal counsel, Psoras said.

In her rebuttal, Correa said that not all of the attention given to the case online or in print can be attributed solely to Worcester County residents. Correa also argued that county residents farther south, like in Pocomoke, would have had less exposure to the case, and that the process of jury selection could solve any problems with bias.

Regardless, the dismissal of charges rendered moot the change of venue motion and the others.