Homeless man wasn't charged, but he spent year in jail. Now he goes to halfway house.

MAN IS FREED FROM LEGAL LIMBO

August 14, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron and Timothy B. Wheeler | Thomas W. Waldron and Timothy B. Wheeler,Evening Sun Staff Laura Lippman contributed to this story.

After a year in judicial limbo in the city jail, Martin R. Henn left custody today and headed for a halfway house.

"Thank you very much and may God keep you well," the 54-year-old homeless man told Judge Ellen M. Heller after she dismissed a year-old arson charge in Baltimore Circuit Court this morning.

Henn had been held in the jail for over a year, despite never having been formally charged or assigned a trial date. He told Heller that he had asked jail social workers several times to help him resolve his legal status, but nothing was done.

"He told them several times," said his attorney, public defender Joy L. Phillips. "He attempted in his own way to gain these rights by telling the social workers."

"Maybe in the future," Henn said, "[my case] can and will keep someone else from going through the hell this man has."

Henn said he spent a lonely year in jail. "Nobody knew I existed," he declared.

"There was not one visit because there was no one to visit. There was no mail, because there was no one to write," Henn said. "Me and my God made it happen."

Henn, a slight man with a bushy beard and flowing dark hair, went to Tuerk House, a Baltimore treatment center for alcoholics. Dressed in blue jeans and a white shirt, Henn said he missed his five daughters, whom he hasn't seen in nine years.

Henn, who is from northern Anne Arundel County, has been imprisoned in the Baltimore City Detention Center since his arrest July 16, 1990, for allegedly setting fire to a car in South Baltimore.

Officials scrambled the last few days to figure out how Henn slipped into judicial oblivion. At the same time, officials moved quickly to dispose of the arson charge and an unrelated public drunkenness case pending against him since March 1990 in Anne Arundel County.

LaMont Flanagan, acting jail commissioner, said his staff has turned up another six inmates who may have languished in jail for three or four months without a court date.

Here is what happened, according to Flanagan:

The case began to go awry Aug. 2, 1990, when Henn was brought from the jail to District Court to answer a public drunkenness charge filed against him in April 1990.

He was given a suspended sentence on that charge, and the court also let him off with time served on two counts of malicious destruction that were related to the arson case. He was returned to jail to await a hearing on the arson charge, set for Aug. 14, 1990.

But Henn was not taken to court that day. The jail staff had erroneously recorded that he had been released 12 days earlier with all charges disposed of. He was still in jail, however.

The jail staff discovered its mistake Aug. 30, but it was not until Oct. 5 that they asked the state's attorney's office to do something about the arson charge against Henn.

Apparently nothing happened until July 11, eight months later, when an employee in the state pretrial services division came across a computer record that showed Henn had been in jail for a year and still had no trial date.

The employee, Janet Yodris, notified the Baltimore prosecutor's office. Prosecutors took the case to a grand jury, which indicted Henn. Simms said indicting Henn was the quickest way of bringing him to court.

When Henn came to court last week, Heller was astonished to learn he was in jail for more than a year.

At Heller's request, Anne Arundel County District Court Judge Clayton Greene Jr. yesterday placed Henn's public drunkenness charge on the inactive docket.

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