Councilman's killer nears freedom State hospital feels Charles A. Hopkins is no longer a threat

June 04, 1996|By Peter Hermann and William F. Zorzi Jr. | Peter Hermann and William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer John Rivera contributed to this article.

Twenty years after Charles A. Hopkins killed a Baltimore city councilman and wounded two other people, the state hospital for the criminally insane is recommending that he be granted a conditional release, saying he is "no longer a threat" to society.

Lawyers for the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital are drafting terms for a release, which could be filed within a month with a Circuit Court judge, who has the final say.

If approved, Hopkins would continue living at a downtown halfway house -- where he has been for the past dozen years -- until 2001, when he could be granted a full release from confinement.

Dr. Martin P. Wasserman, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said doctors "think it's appropriate that [Hopkins] be released into the community. He has proven himself to be non-threatening. The petitioning process recognizes the clinical perception that this fellow is no longer a threat."

A spokeswoman for the agency, Tori Leonard, said Hopkins has been denied previous appeals for release while William Donald Schaefer -- the former governor and Baltimore mayor whose aide was wounded in the attack -- was in office.

She said "the political climate is right now. Governor Schaefer is no longer in office." The spokeswoman would not say if Schaefer ever blocked a release petition, but said "it would have been problematic" to release Hopkins "while he was in office."

Leonard's comments set off a scramble at the State House in Annapolis, where aides to Gov. Parris N. Glendening rushed to deny any political motive in seeking Hopkins' release.

Judi Scioli, a spokeswoman for the governor, denied that Schaefer's status had anything to do with the petition. "It shouldn't be politicized at all," she said.

The attack occurred April 13, 1976, at a temporary City Hall office on South Calvert Street. Hopkins, angry that the health department closed his carryout business, shot 6th District Councilman Dominic M. Leone Sr. and wounded Councilman Carroll J. Fitzgerald and Kathleen Nolan, an aide to Schaefer, the mayor then.

Victims and their families reacted to yesterday's news with dismay and anger. Most said they had not known Hopkins was living at Hamilton House, a halfway house on Cathedral Street in downtown Baltimore.

"I think this is a mistake," said Schaefer, who knew the victims and was the apparent target in the attack. "This is another one of those things that causes the judicial system to get a name of being easy on criminals."

The son of the slain councilman, Dominic M. Leone Jr., who had to be restrained by security guards after Hopkins was found innocent by reason of insanity, said yesterday that "it's a shame that he can be released and my father can't."

Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., whose father, then a city councilman, suffered a heart attack and died in the aftermath of the handgun shootings, said that he has come to terms with his father's death.

"I've resolved a long time ago that my father's life meant a heck of a lot more to me than any anger I feel toward Hopkins," Curran said yesterday.

And City Councilman Robert W. Curran, another Curran son, who now holds the same 3rd District council seat that his father occupied, said that he planned to seek an additional condition of Hopkins' release through the state's attorney's office.

"I want to make sure that he is forbidden from coming into City Hall," the youngest Curran said.

Attorney General Curran sent a letter to his two brothers listing the seven release conditions the state is seeking. They include a requirement that Hopkins live at Hamilton House for at least a year and afterward with a family member, that he regularly take his medication and that his mental status be routinely monitored.

Hopkins, reached by phone yesterday at the halfway house, hung up on a reporter. Lawyers at the public defender's office, speaking through a secretary, declined to comment.

Leonard said Hopkins has lived at the halfway house "without incident" since 1984. He stays there from Saturday through Thursday, and returns to Perkins on Fridays. She said he is trusted to go back and forth to a job. Leonard said she did not know what job Hopkins has.

State petitions for Hopkins' release were rejected four times in the 1980s. The petition this time would retain Hopkins' current status until 2001, when Perkins officials and the Circuit Court would have three options: continue his current status, return him to Perkins or fully release him.

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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