By Joe Beck
LURAY -- A Page County Circuit Court judge Wednesday scrapped most of the case against Margaret Daley, who had been facing a felony charge linked to child molestation charges filed against her husband.
Judge Bruce Albertson ruled that a specific part of the law under which Daley had been charged was vague, unenforceable and unconstitutional, according to a ruling issued years ago by the Court of Appeals. The General Assembly has not done anything to fix it since then, Albertson said.
Page County prosecutors said the outcome of Margaret Daley's case does not affect any of the 12 counts of aggravated sexual battery against James Daley, her husband and a former pastor in Luray and Lebanon Church.
But Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Elizabeth Cooper admitted that Albertson's ruling ended, for now, attempts to prosecute Margaret Daley, except for a remaining misdemeanor count of failing to report child abuse.
"This route is kind of at a dead end, and we have to start back at square one," Cooper said.
Defense attorney Jerry Talton, who filed a brief challenging the indictment, exulted in Albertson's decision.
"The judge's analysis of the case and the law was excellent," Talton said. "The judge gave it careful consideration."
Talton described the law as currently written, "kind of an open invitation to police and prosecutors to proceed even though that point of the law is void for vagueness."
Law enforcement officials in Page County have said the case against James Daley, 70, spans a period from Jan. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012 when he was pastor of Beth Eden Lutheran Church. He was also pastor at the Lebanon Lutheran Church in Lebanon Church for several years in the 1980s.
Talton's brief states that a child enrolled at Margaret Daley's child day care business in September 2012 told Margaret Daley that James Daley had touched her breast area under her shirt.
"It is undisputed that the defendant had no prior notice of this event, and that she called her husband and immediately had him come back to the day care facility and apologize to the child and promise it would never happen again," Talton wrote.
Talton's brief argued that the statute under which Margaret Daley was charged, "attempts to criminalize simple negligence and the mere possibility of a threat to life, health or morals, even where the defendant does not intend such consequences . . ."
Cooper's brief states the girl at the center of the case was 13 years old at the time the offense was committed. The daycare program was run by Margaret and James Daley out of their home, which served as a parsonage for one of several churches at which James Daley was a minister.
Cooper's account of the child's report of improper touching agrees with Talton's but adds several details.
"Once Jim (Daley) apologized to Margaret, she followed up with the child. In that conversation, she told the child she had 'an adult decision to make' and that 'you know what will happen if you tell anybody about this.' To that, the child replied 'me and my brothers will not be able to come back here' and Ms. Daley assured her that would be the case."
The child told no one other than Margaret Daley about the alleged offense after the conversation, according to Cooper.
Cooper argued in her brief that Margaret Daley's refusal to tell the girl's parents or law enforcement authorities of her husband's alleged actions constituted "gross and criminal negligence," which means the law under which she had been charged "is not vague and unenforceable."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org