28 more city jail inmates may be wrongfully held Henn leaves court, enters treatment

August 15, 1991|By Brian Sullam

After 396 days of confinement in Baltimore City Detention Center, Martin R. Henn walked out of Courthouse East yesterday a free man, but jail officials said they have found another 28 inmates who may be in similar straits.

"Our review and investigation has uncovered another 28 people who don't have trial dates on their jail files or have been in here [the jail] an excessive amount of time as defined by the state's speedy trial laws," LaMont Flanagan, the acting commissioner of the state's Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, said yesterday. Those inmates are in addition to six similar cases discovered Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Mr. Henn traded his involuntary jail confinement for a voluntary stay at an alcohol treatment facility.

Mr. Henn, a homeless alcoholic who was sent to the jail July 16, 1990, after his arrest on charges of arson and malicious destruction of property, was lost in jail for more than nine months because of missteps in the criminal justice system and the jail administration.

For the past month, prosecutors, public defenders and judges worked to untangle the legal predicament that allowed Mr. Henn to languish in the jail while awaiting a trial on arson charges.

Despite his ordeal, Mr. Henn was gracious yesterday after a short appearance before Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Ellen M. Heller.

"I am not bitter," he said at an impromptu news conference outside the downtown courthouse. "I just don't want to see nothing like this happen to nobody else."

Moments earlier, Gary Honick, an assistant state's attorney, told the court that the state would drop the outstanding charges against Mr. Henn, allowing him to leave the jail free of any criminal charges.

Judge Heller, who learned of Mr. Henn's long confinement Friday, arranged to have him participate in an alcohol treatment program at Tuerk House in the 700 block of Ashburton Street.

While pointing out that the "inefficiency and inertia" of the criminal justice system were responsible for Mr. Henn's long confinement, JudgeHeller noted that it was his alcoholism that brought him to the jail.

"It is the problem that has brought you in contact with the criminal justice system," she said.

Mr. Henn, who grew a bushy beard and long hair while in jail, admitted he needed treatment.

"I may look like a bum now, but this is what the Baltimore city jail did to me and so did alcoholism," Mr. Henn said.

He told reporters he had been married for 27 years and has five daughters with whom he has lost touch.

During the past four years, Mr. Henn was confined to the jail twice -- once for alleged unauthorized use of a vehicle and once for alleged arson -- but he was always released.

When he was jailed on July 16, 1990, on another arson charge, he disappeared into the maws of the system.

Exactly a year ago yesterday, Mr. Henn missed his day in court because jail officials mistakenly believed he had already been released. Although three weeks later jail officials discovered he was in jail, it took them until October to write a letter to the Baltimore State's Attorney's office requesting a review the charges against Mr. Henn. The prosecutors never replied.

As far as jail officials can determine, nothing else happened for more than nine months, until the state took over operation of the jail from the city and, on July 11 began reviewing inmates' cases.

Mr. Henn's name came up in a review of inmates who did not have scheduled trial dates or had been in the jail for more than 90 or 120 days -- the time it normally takes to schedule a case for trial.

Mr. Flanagan said the review has turned out to be very time-consuming because it involves creating a "paper trail" and finding information contained in court records that may be missing from inmates' records at the jail.

Mr. Henn may not be alone in awaiting a trial date, Mr. Flanagan said. A man, whom jail officials would not identify, was arrested March 11 and incarcerated. He was scheduled to go to trial in April, but his case was postponed and he was not assigned a new trial date.

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