Judge to begin deliberations on whether to free killer of 4 family members

June 07, 1991|By Michael Ollove

The testimony ended yesterday, finally depositing with Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Ellen L. Hollander sole responsibility for determining in the next weeks whether Henry Howard, killer of four family members nine years ago, can now safely rejoin society.

But before beginning her private deliberations, the judge shared her dilemma with the court and particularly with Baltimore Assistant State's Attorney Edwin Wenck, who argued that Mr. Howard is not yet ready for a conditional release from the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital for the criminally insane.

"It struck me that there was absolutely no evidence to find in your favor even if I wanted to," she told Mr. Wenck.

In the face of three psychiatrists and a social worker who argued strongly in favor of Mr. Howard's release, and the testimony of Mr. Howard -- testimony the judge herself characterized as "impressive" -- Mr. Wenck presented no witnesses at all. Instead, Mr. Wenck ran a sniping attack on the witnesses, hoping to create enough doubt in the judge's mind that she would side with him.

George Lipman, the public defender representing Mr. Howard, insisted that Mr. Wenck hadn't come close to succeeding.

"Do we have a preponderance of the evidence?" he asked during his closing argument. "Your Honor, we have all the evidence."

That evidence continued to mount yesterday when Jonas R. Rappeport, the chief medical officer of the Baltimore Circuit Court, added his voice to those who already told Judge Hollander that Mr. Howard represented virtually no threat to society.

"Mr. Howard," the doctor said, "has a very excellent chance of never having another episode. I think there is a superb chance that he will have no relapses."

Agreeing with the witnesses who came before him, Dr. Rappeport testified that Mr. Howard no longer suffers from the delusions that caused him to take a shotgun and kill his mother, aunt, uncle and grandmother in Southeast Baltimore. He relates BTC well to other people, his self-esteem has risen and he has good insight into his own condition, the doctor said. Mr. Howard's paranoid schizophrenia is in remission, he said.

Under questioning, Dr. Rappeport said he believed the chances that Mr. Howard would never again inflict violence on others was in the "99th percentile," noting that Mr. Howard hasn't been violent since the murders. The doctor added that there was a greater chance that Mr. Howard would take his own life.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Wenck agreed that Mr. Howard appears to have thrived at the hospital, in jobs he has held outside the hospital since 1987 and in a Perkins-run halfway house where he has lived for two years. But, he asked the judge to postpone the release to give Mr. Howard more time to recover. In particular, he noted that Mr. Howard has yet to experience his first romance in life or to complete mourning for the family he killed.

"What the state is looking for is a little more support for Mr. Howard and a little less anxiety for the state," Mr. Wenck said.

While the judge seemed to be leaning toward granting Mr. Howard, 30, a conditional release, she appeared troubled that the conditions proposed by Perkins weren't strict enough. The proposed plan calls for Mr. Howard to remain, at least initially, at the halfway house and to continue meeting weekly with his therapist. Under the plan, however, Perkins is free to move him to his own apartment at any time and also to relax his contacts with his therapist.

But Judge Hollander said that if Mr. Howard is moved, she wants to make sure that Perkins officials are able to monitor him frequently to determine if he is regressing. "It seems to me, more contact is better than no contact," she said.

At the completion of the hearings, Mr. Howard expressed optimism that the judge would side with him. "I feel I'll be released once the judge looks at all the evidence," he said before leaving the courthouse to return to the halfway house.

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