State seeks release of killer once ruled insane

April 23, 1991|By Michael Ollove

After Henry Howard shot and killed four elderly members of his family -- all at the instruction of Satan, he later said -- a Baltimore judge in 1983 ruled that he was not guilty but insane and ordered him sent to a state hospital for the criminally insane.

Next month, not quite nine years after the murders,representatives of that hospital, the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, will go back into court and insist that he is much better now. He should be freed, an assistant attorney generalis expected to argue to Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander.

The Baltimore state's attorney's office, which never contested the finding that Howard was insane, is expected to oppose his release. Edwin Wenck, the mental health coordinator for that office, refused to discuss what the city's position would be on the state's petition. However, Howard's attorney, George Lipman, head of the public defender's mental health division, said he believed that the prosecutor's office would fight the release.

Neither hospital officials nor the hospital's attorney could be reachedfor comment yesterday.

Mr. Lipman refused to discuss the particulars of the case, noting that the evaluations of Howard are not yet complete. But he said that he had recently seen Howard, who turned 30 earlier this month. "He is doing well," Mr. Lipman said. "He is doing very well."

Mr. Lipman said Howard has been on a work-release program, which enables him to leave the hospital during the days to work on a job and return to the hospital at night. Mr. Lipman said he did not know where Howard worked.

The apparent evaluation of the Perkins doctors that Howard's mental illness is in remission stands in striking contrast to the hospital's evaluation of him in December 1982, five months after he walked from room to room in his Southeast Baltimore home and shot to death his mother, grandmother, aunt and uncle.

Six days later, he was arrested in a doughnut shop.

At the time, he was carrying a semiautomatic rifle and told police that he was planning to kill a brother and batches of policemen, firefighters and schoolchildren.

In his confession to the police, Howard said he had meant to play the song "Another One Bites the Dust" while murdering his family. After killing them, he said, he wandered into a convenience store to play pinball for a while and then went into the Grand Theater "and watched half of the movie 'Tron' which was playing there. . . . It was boring."

All six of the doctors who evaluated Howard in 1982 concluded that he suffered from schizophrenia of the paranoid type and was not responsible for his crimes. Their report said that Howard believed he was receiving messages from God and from Satan through the radio, that he had harbored thoughts of murdering people since age 14 and that he had intended to kill at least 100 people.

They also noted that Howard's "affect was inappropriate. He smiled a lot about the killings."

The report persuaded Baltimore Circuit Judge Edgar P. Silver to find Howard criminally insane and to order him to remain at Perkins until he was no longer a threat to himself and the community.

In an interview with The Evening Sun two years after his commitment, Howard, a tall, rail-thin man who as a teen-ager had lived for days at a time in the woods and traveled through sewers, said he felt he was recovering from his mental illness and believed he would one day be capable of rejoining society. "I can understand people feeling angry that I might get out in five years and not be punished enough," he said. "If I was in their position, I would feel the same way.

"But you have to look at it from the point of view that the guy [himself] was so sick he didn't know what he was doing. I was tortured by my insanity."

Expressing remorse for the murders, he added, "In the case of insanity, hopefully you can salvage a person and make them a productive member of society again."

During the interview, Howard said that he would resist being released if he didn't feel he were ready, even if his doctors disagreed with him. Mr. Lipman yesterday reiterated that point.

"He's never taken the position, nor has he ever said that he wanted to get out before the department said he was ready," Mr. Lipman said. He noted that the petition for Howard's release came not from him, but from the hospital. Mr. Lipman said he expected Howard to support the petition.

Mr. Lipman added that the law allows for a judge to release Howard under certain conditions -- such as ordering where he should live and imposing a degree of supervision.

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