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JUDGE TO DECIDE NOV. 11 IF ABUSE TRIAL WILL GO ON WITHOUT THE DEFENDANT

SHARE JUDGE TO DECIDE NOV. 11 IF ABUSE TRIAL WILL GO ON WITHOUT THE DEFENDANT

A 2nd District judge will decide Nov. 11 if the trial of accused child molester Donald R. Persson - now the subject of an international manhunt - will go on without him.

Persson, 53, formerly of Bountiful, skipped out on his $150,000 bond in September, and FBI officials believe he has fled the country, probably to the Orient where he lived before.Persson, a Davis School District psychologist, is charged with rape of a child, sexual abuse of a child, dealing in harmful material and most recently with jumping bail. All are felonies.

He sold his home in Bountiful and disappeared Sept. 21, the day defense attorney Wally Bugden was arguing before the state Supreme Court that photos and other evidence seized by Bountiful police at Persson's home in June should not be allowed as evidence.

Bugden lost the appeal, with the justices upholding an earlier decision by District Judge Rodney S. Page.

FBI officials said they've found no trace of Persson and believe he may have fled the country, perhaps using a false identity and fake passport. Persson lived in the Far East for several years and is believed to have a wife and children in Japan.

Producers of the "America's Most Wanted" television series were contacted by FBI agents after Persson fled and have agreed to profile the case. They are expected to be in Utah within two to three weeks to film a segment on him.

On Tuesday, Page asked Bugden and prosecutor Brian Namba to submit written opinions on whether Persson's trial should be held in absentia, without Persson being present.

Chief prosecutor Carvel Harward said the county is ready to prosecute the case, whether Persson is present or not. A previous trial date was set, Persson knew about it and fled, Harward said.

Bugden argued that in-absentia trials are rare in Utah, the statute outlining procedures is vague, and he can only find two instances where appeals have been argued before the state Supreme Court.

He also raised several other legal issues, prompting Page to ask for written briefs from both sides. The judge said he will rule on them by Nov. 11, then set a tentative Dec. 9 trial date.

Bugden said after the hearing he's not anxious to go to trial without Persson, especially in a jury trial.

"Obviously it's easier to go to trial with the defendant present," Bugden said. "Trials without a defendant are held, and have been ruled to be legal. But it raises some constitutional questions in my mind."

Bugden also questioned how impartial a juror could be, hearing evidence and knowing that the defendant had fled.

"That jury is going to have a gut feeling about the defendant. It can't help but be unfair," Bugden said.