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First Of Five Black Suspects Acquitted In Alleged Rape Of White Woman

December 24, 1985

ELKTON, Md. (AP) _ A jury acquitted the first of five black defendants to go on trial on charges of raping a white woman in a case that sparked a protest by the NAACP.

″I was nervous when they came back so quick,″ Ronald Lee Fitts said of the all-white jury, which deliberated less than 11/2 hours Monday. ″I feel great now.″

Fitts, 21, was found innocent of first-degree rape and 20 other charges, including sexual assault and burglary.

″I’ve been praying ever since day one,″ said his mother, Shirley Fitts. ″I knew God would answer my prayer.″

The woman who said Fitts was among five men who had repeatedly raped her and forced her to submit to other sexual acts July 12 was not at the courthouse when the verdict was returned.

About 100 people, led by leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, marched peacefully to the courthouse Wednesday to protest the prosecution of the five.

Assistant State’s Attorney Thomas L. Kemp retired to his office after the verdict and refused to discuss the outcome, leaving unanswered whether he would proceed with the other trials.

The others charged are three brothers, Oscar Lee Gude, 26; Sheraton Lee Gude, 20; and SurDonald Lee Gude, 17, and Richard Daniel Purdie, 17.

The woman testified that she opened her door July 12, believing that only SurDonald Lee Gude would be coming inside to provide her with information about a recent burglary at her home. Instead, she said, all five men entered.

Fitts maintained that he went to the woman’s house alone, at her request, to help move boxes. Once he was inside, she made sexual advances toward him, he said.

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