Murder Suspect Ruled Incompetent

November 22, 1990|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

An 18-year-old Selby man who told police he murdered his father because he thought his father was the devil was ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial yesterday.

On the third day of a hearing into the mental condition of Robert James Smith, Circuit Judge Bruce C. Williams ruled Smith is unable to understand the nature of the charges facing him and is unable to assist in his defense.

Smith, who stared at the floor and drooled through most of the proceedings, was returned to the state health department's Clifton T.

Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup after the hearing. Smith will remain hospitalized until he is judged competent.

Because doctors at the mental hospital have determined Smith is "malingering" -- faking mental illness to avoid prosecution -- the judge and lawyers for both sides discussed tentative plans to transfer Smith to another institution, or at least to another psychiatrist, for treatment.

The opinion of the Perkins doctors was opposed by a psychologist and a psychiatrist who testified Tuesday that Smith is psychotic. Jeffrey Janofsky, a psychiatrist, said Smith was an example of someone whose latent psychosis was brought out by drug use.

Forensic psychologist David Shapiro described a series of bizarre behaviors and statements made by Smith, including a claim that his defense attorney, J. Michael Wachs, had fangs.

Williams issued his ruling yesterday after a 20-minute chambers conference with lawyers for the two sides. He said Assistant State's Attorney Ronald M. Naditch had not met the burden of proving Smith competent.

The judge said he believed Smith was at some point in the past competent, but was obviously now "uncommunicative."

In court, Naditch said he thought he had shown Smith competent through a preponderance of evidence, but conceded he had not met his burden of proof.

While Naditch spoke, Smith, who had been nearly inert throughout the hearing, suddenly stood, but his attorneys eased him back into his seat.

Smith is charged with first-degree murder in the March 17 death of his father, Charles Amos Smith. Police say Smith walked into the older man's bedroom and, while his father strummed a guitar, shot him once in the head with a 30-30 rifle. Hours later, Smith told police he thought his father was the devil.

Smith's mother and brother testified Monday that Smith's behavior has been erratic since he reported overdosing on "three dimes" of PCP in late May 1989. They said he was committed in the summer of 1989 to the Crownsville Hospital Center, and that he repeatedly claimed to be Jesus Christ and God and began accusing others of being the devil.

Since his arrest, Smith has split his time between Perkins and the county detention center. In a videotape of Smith being interviewed Oct. 8 in the county jail, he rambles and is hostile. Asked whether his father was abusive -- a prosecution claim -- Smith said, "I'd say he scared the crap out of me. He'd come home drunk and beat up my mother."

"He sold me out. He sold me out to the world," Smith said without further explanation. In the tape, Smith is difficult -- he accuses his lawyer of trying to steal his soul and says, "I'm not going to cooperate with damnation" -- but he does communicate with Janofsky, Wachs and assistant public defender Pamela North.

A psychiatrist at Perkins testified Tuesday that Smith said he was faking his symptoms in hopes of getting into the Patuxent Institution rather than a regular state prison.

"He said, 'I'm not crazy. I killed my father because I was angry. Satan?

What is Satan anyway?' " said Christine Tellefsen.

She also said Smith claimed to have been sexually and physically abused by his father and she quoted him as saying, "I've been playing crazy as a way to deny what my father did to me. I just couldn't take it anymore so I shot him."

The Perkins psychiatrist concluded, "I don't think he's out of touch with reality. I think he knows what's going on."

In issuing his ruling, Williams said he found the conclusions reached by Janofsky and Shapiro, who interviewed Smith and his friends and family, to be based on "a broader spectrum of available factual evidence" than that used by the Perkins doctors.

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