Perkins patient who murdered 4 relatives testifies to his recovery

June 06, 1991|By Michael Ollove

The voices have grown silent.

Satan no longer orders him to kill through personalized messages on radio channel 60. God does not issue him instructions through the Bible.

In a slow, measured voice, Henry Howard yesterday sat in a witness stand and insisted that his once "massive" mental disorder is in remission and that he, the killer of four members of his own family nine years ago, can be trusted to circulate among other men and women without endangering any of them.

When he completed his two hours of testimony, his attorney complimented him. The court-appointed psychiatrist complimented him. And the assistant state's attorney, who is arguing against Mr. Howard's conditional release from the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital for the criminally insane, complimented him.

"Good job," Edwin Wenck, the assistant state's attorney, said with a curt nod to Mr. Howard after the third day of hearings before Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen L. Hollander. After today, the last scheduled day of hearings in the case, Judge Hollander must rule whether Mr. Howard remains a threat to either himself or to others.

Before yesterday's climax to the hearings -- when Mr. Howard took the witness stand -- specialists from Perkins, which initiated the petition for his release, presented sharply contrasting "before" and "after" portraits of the man they now describe as a Perkins success story.

The patient who entered the Jessup hospital nine years ago after being found not guilty by reason of insanity was a 20-year-old, sharply delusional, self-loathing paranoid schizophrenic who was incapable of forming trusting relationships or distinguishing reality from fantasy, according to the witnesses from Perkins.

But the person they are now recommending for release is a deeply sensitive, earnest 30-year-old man with keen insight into his own mental illness, deep remorse about his crimes and a budding appreciation that he deserves some pleasure in life.

According to their testimony and medical records, Mr. Howard had a horrendous upbringing of physical abuse and emotional deprivation. He was raised by people who were themselves deeply disturbed.

His mother, aunt and uncle -- who, along with his maternal grandmother, became his murder victims -- were all paranoid schizophrenics. So, too, was his older brother. All had been hospitalized on various occasions.

Pamela Barbour, Mr. Howard's therapist at Perkins for the last six years, testified yesterday that he grew up without any semblance of parental support or love.

For the first year of Mr. Howard's life, his mother, who believed she was the Queen of England, paid a neighbor to keep him, Ms. Barbour said. When Henry was 3 or 4, his mother would beat him if she had to awaken him in the morning and beat him if he woke up without her permission.

"He learned that he couldn't make any impact on others or his environment other than trying to dodge the fireworks," Ms. Barbour said.

Ms. Barbour testified that as Mr. Howard grew older, he never learned to form attachments to other people and spent day after day alone in his room in Southeast Baltimore, conjuring up more and more vivid delusions. He began to believe his mother was a witch or a vampire and that God and Satan were competing for his loyalty.

In speaking about the murders, Mr. Howard said, "I felt that Satan had control of my body and my heart. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't sleep." Finally, he said, on orders from Satan, he killed his family, believing that in the process he would die himself.

After his arrest, Mr. Howard told police and medical evaluators that he had intended to shoot police and firemen as well, to draw fire on himself and cause his own death.

Throughout the hearings, Mr. Wenck has sought to establish that Mr. Howard, who now confesses great remorse over his crime, might undertake murder to prompt his own death.

But yesterday, Mr. Howard said he has not considered suicide for many years and if he ever did, he is convinced he would not harm others in the process. "The main thing is I don't want to get sick and I don't want to hurt anyone again."

He said he is obsessive about monitoring himself to assure his symptoms do not return. He constantly asks himself if he is having delusions, if he is becoming physically withdrawn or if he is neglecting his outward appearance, all signs, he said, that his illness was reasserting itself and that he was re-entering a private, internal world.

At times on the witness stand, Mr. Howard, a tall, somewhat awkward man with a brush-style haircut and thin mustache, sounded like a psychologist himself, assessing his own improving self-esteem and self-awareness and his ability to deal with setbacks he has suffered. He said that he no longer believes himself a "monster," his self-portrait through most of his life.

For the past two years, Mr. Howard said he has been living happily at a Baltimore halfway house run by Perkins. For the past four years, he has held various jobs, most recently as a custodian with the Motor Vehicle Administration.

Under terms of his conditional release, he would be required to remain at the halfway house, at least initially.

He would also be required to continue in therapy and agree to Perkins' close monitoring and control.

For many years, Mr. Howard said he hoped and intended to remain at Perkins for the rest of his life. Now, he said, he thinks about a different future, about moving into his own apartment, about getting a better job and even, one day, about having a girlfriend for the first time in his life.

"There's still a large part of my development that never took place," he said. "I still have a lot of catching up to do."

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