Henry Howard, dubbed a "success story" of the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital for the criminally insane nine years after killing his mother and three family members, has won his conditional release.
"None of us has a crystal ball," Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen L. Hollander said in an opinion released late yesterday. "Surely, no one can say with certainty what Howard's future may be. Understandably, there are community members who feel that Howard should be incarcerated forever, due to the gravity of his crimes.
"The overwhelming, uncontradicted evidence is that Howard does not pose a danger."
In hearings in May and June, three psychiatrists and a clinical social worker argued in favor of Howard's release, saying he posed no danger to himself or others. Dr. Christiane Tellefsen, Perkins' acting superintendent, testified that Howard had gained insight into his illness, paranoid schizophrenia, which is now in remission. "Henry Howard is a Perkins success story," she said.
Howard also took the stand -- "a compelling witness," Hollander said in her opinion -- and expressed guilt and remorse. "Even if I stayed at Perkins 50 years it would be better than hurting anyone again," he said.
Nine years ago, Howard entered Perkins after being found not guilty by reason of insanity.
On July 29, 1989, Howard walked from room to room in his family's southeast Baltimore home and shot his uncle, his aunt, his grandmother and his mother. He said later that Satan, through a certain radio frequency, ordered him to kill.
Howard grew up in a "cruel, cold and chaotic" world of physical abuse and deprivation, Hollander wrote. He spent years in foster care without the psychiatric treatment he needed.
His mother, older brother, aunt and uncle were all paranoid schizophrenics. Family members joked about reunions at a state mental hospital, according to testimony.
The 18-page decision said the proposed terms of Howard's release were inadequate and needed to be modified.
Perkins' proposal called for Howard, 30, to live in a Baltimore halfway house, Hamilton House, seven days a week. He now stays there six days and one at Perkins. He would continue meeting weekly with his therapist.
But the plan gave the hospital the right to move Howard to his own apartment at any time and relax contacts with his therapist.
A source familiar with the modifications called them "more stringent safeguards." They would include "mandatory, not discretionary" contacts by Howard with a mental health professional, and informing the court and the state's attorney's office when Howard moves into a new residence.
The conditional release allows the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to discharge Howard with the responsibility of monitoring his compliance with court-imposed conditions.
George M. Lipman, the public defender representing Howard, said the modifications were not a problem. "If the question is does Henry Howard want to have treatment, the answer is sure," he said. "These are just practical considerations."
He called the release "a big milestone" in Howard's life. "This is the official crossing of the line in his life," Lipman said. "It implies more liberty."
Actually, Howard moved into the Perkins halfway house three years ago. He is a janitor at the Motor Vehicle Administration, where co-workers call him "Gentle Ben."
"The court gives great weight to [the psychiatrists'] collective medical judgment, and to Howard's long and successful integration in the community," Hollander said.