Man Accused Of Arson Said To Be Mentally Impaired

October 30, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — A city man accused of setting a fatal fire in an apartment building is mildly mentally retarded and was incapable of understanding the consequences when he confessed to police, a psychologist testified in Carroll Circuit Court yesterday.

John M. Woodward, 35, is charged with first-degree murder, arson and willful and malicious destruction in connection with a four-alarm fire that killed 49-year-old Carvin "Big Joe" Hanna, caused $100,000 damage to the East Main Street apartment building and left 12 people homeless.

Dr. David Shapiro, a forensic psychologist from Pikesville who testified in Woodward's behalf, said Woodward scored a 68 -- within themildly mentally retarded range -- on IQ tests the doctor administered.

Shapiro said the psychological tests also indicated Woodward might be brain-damaged, perhaps from a 1979 incident in which he was kicked in the head by a cow.

Police and prosecutors claim Woodward set the fire to annoy a homeless man, Charles "Chicken Charlie" Ogline, who often slept on the apartment building porch.

Hours after theblaze, Ogline told police he set the fire. He was charged with the crime, but the charges were later dropped.

Woodward and his attorney, J. Barry Hughes of Westminster, claim Ogline set the fire and thatWoodward was pressured by police into saying he was involved.

Hughes maintains Woodward is mentally impaired and could not have understood his Miranda rights when they were read to him. Hughes also claims his client did not understand the consequences of his actions when he confessed.

Hughes has portrayed Woodward as a man who wants people to like him and who will tell people whatever he thinks they wantto hear.

Shapiro testified that Woodward "bottomed out" on tests to measure his reading level. The doctor said Woodward scored below the lowest level of the test -- a third-grade reading level.

But State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman and Deputy State's Attorney Edward Ulsch maintain that Woodward is not mentally impaired and that he understood the consequences of his confession to police.

Before the trial began, Hughes made a motion to have Woodward's statements suppressed, but Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. denied that motion.

In court yesterday, Hickman challenged Shapiro's analysis of Woodward's IQ, saying "severe depression" can affect the scores.

"He (Woodward) had a lot of reasons . . . to be depressed, did he not?" Hickman asked the doctor.

Hickman then wrote several possible reasons Woodward might be depressed on a large tablet for the jury.

The list included the death of Woodward's mother in March and the fact that Woodward has been in jail since his arrest in May.

Hickman said Woodward had been placed on a "suicide watch" at the Carroll County Detention Center because guards believed he might take his own life.

Shapiro testified that Woodward was depressed when he saw him in jail, and that depression could affect IQ scores by 10 to 30 points.

If convicted on the murder charge, Woodward could face life in prison without parole.

Testimony is expected to begin this morning at 9:30 a.m. before Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold, and the defense is scheduled to rest its case today.

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