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A federal appeals court in St. Louis ordered a new trial Wednesday for a man serving 15 years behind bars on a 1994 burglary conviction, saying a judge had been wrong to keep him from speaking to his defense attorney in court. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision said the trial judge had demanded that Gary Moore only pass notes to his attorney despite Moore’s poor writing skills. Court records said St. Louis County Circuit Judge Philip Sweeney told the defense, “There’s very little that needs to be discussed during a trial.” Wednesday’s ruling said Missouri must free Moore, 41, from prison if he is not retried “within a reasonable time” but did not specify what that time frame might be. Moore has served more than seven years of his sentence and was scheduled for conditional early release in September 2006, state Department of Corrections spokesman Tim Kniest said. Scott Holste, a spokesman for the Missouri attorney general’s office, said the state was reviewing the ruling and has contacted prosecutors who would handle a new trial to discuss their options. Wednesday’s ruling upheld a lower court decision saying Sweeney deprived Moore of his constitutional right to assist in his defense. According to court transcripts, Sweeney told Moore during a pretrial hearing to “get yourself a legal pad or something, because during the trial you’re not going to be allowed to talk at the counsel table.” The ruling said there’s no court record that Moore’s conversations with his defense attorney would disrupt the proceedings or that Sweeney ever warned him about being disruptive before banning him from talking. “To say (the trial judge’s actions) are unusual is to understate it. I’ve never seen a record like this,” said Howard Eisenberg, Moore’s court-appointed appellate attorney. Calls to Sweeney’s office went unanswered Wednesday. Sweeney said during the trial that he generally requires silence when court is in session from everyone except lawyers and testifying witnesses. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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