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Lawyer in rape case writes to accuser

The attorney representing rape suspect Timothy Conley offered this week to help the accuser drop all charges, a move that other lawyers described as unusual.

The lawyer, Kenneth S. Stepp of Inverness, wrote a letter to the 18-year-old accuser and said he would prepare a document for her to sign if she wished to drop the case.

"Of course, the State could continue with their prosecution, anyway," Stepp wrote. "But usually they follow the preference of the complaining witness concerning whether to dismiss a case."

The young woman, whose name is withheld because of the nature of the case, said she wasn't interested in Stepp's offer.

In fact, her mother said she plans to file a formal grievance with the Florida Bar.

"That's just being vicious. What he did, in my opinion, is unethical," said the woman, whose identity is withheld to protect her daughter's privacy.

Stepp was out of town Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

Conley, 23, is accused of abducting the woman from outside Crystal River Mall on June 15 and raping her.

Conley has pleaded innocent to the charges and demanded a jury trial. The case is scheduled for a status conference March 22.

Earlier this week, the woman received Stepp's letter and burst into tears.

In the letter, Stepp identified himself as Conley's lawyer and noted that he had read the girl's statement and deposition.

"Sometimes complaining witnesses in criminal cases later decide that the matter be dropped. If you prefer that the prosecution of Timothy Conley regarding you be dropped by the state attorney's office, I will prepare a paper for you to sign," Stepp wrote.

"My daughter went hysterical," the mother said. "It's like he's trying to coerce the kid, because that's what she is. She may be 18, but she's still a kid."

According to Florida Bar rules, lawyers generally are prohibited from communicating with people who are represented by other lawyers. It was unclear Wednesday whether that rule applied in this case; efforts to get an answer from the Florida Bar were unsuccessful.

The prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Liz Osmond, said the letter was unusual. So did several defense lawyers asked Wednesday.

Osmond did not speculate about the ethical considerations but did say the letter was legal.

"Although unfortunate, it does not appear to be in violation of the witness tampering statute," she said.

This is not Stepp's first unusual move in the case.

Last year, he asked a judge to dismiss the case because the state filed charges itself instead of seeking a grand jury indictment.

Prosecutors noted that indictments are not required for rape cases; Circuit Judge John Thurman agreed.

Stepp also wants the court to convene a 12-member jury _ not the standard six-member panel _ for Conley's trial.

The lawyer said the U.S. Constitution provides for 12 jurors; he further noted that Citrus County's courtrooms have plenty of room for larger juries.

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