Attacker wants 1987 conviction overturned Man got 30-year term for stabbing co-worker

February 26, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Ten years after a stabbing put Robert Diffenderfer in a wheelchair for life, he returned to the Baltimore County Courthouse yesterday -- to watch his attacker try to get the attempted murder conviction thrown out.

The attacker, Shawn T. Reid, who is serving a 30-year prison sentence, was too mentally ill at the time of the stabbing to stand trial, lawyer Gil S. Amaral argued. He said Reid's trial attorney moved too slowly on that issue.

Reid was convicted of attempted murder in October 1987 of stabbing Diffenderfer in the kitchen of the Crease restaurant in Towson, where both men worked. At the time, Reid was 17 and Diffenderfer was 22.

The night of the attack in March 1987, Reid asked if he could make himself a tuna fish sandwich, but Diffenderfer said the restaurant's kitchen was too busy and he'd have to wait.

Reid then stabbed Diffenderfer in the back twice with a kitchen knife, severing his spinal cord and making the young man a paraplegic.

"I just want to see him do what he was punished for," Diffenderfer, who lives in Pennsylvania, said outside the courtroom yesterday.

"I have no hard feelings toward him. Life's too short to worry about stuff like that," he said.

Amaral, who was hired by Reid's mother, asked Circuit Judge J. William Hinkel to throw out the conviction.

He said Reid's trial attorney, M. Christina Gutierrez, did not ask the court early enough to find that Reid was not criminally responsible to stand trial. She filed the plea just before the case was to begin; it was denied.

Gutierrez said on the witness stand yesterday that if she had had indications of Reid's mental illness earlier, she would have filed the plea and had her client undergo extensive psychiatric evaluation.

During the hearing -- which is to continue today -- both Amaral and Assistant State's Attorney Catherine Curran O'Malley brought psychiatrists to testify about Reid's mental state.

Since the crime, testimony indicated, Reid has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic by at least two psychiatrists. His lawyer told the judge yesterday that Reid could not understand what was going on at the hearing.

In court, shackled at his ankles, he wore a shabby coat and a cap inside out. He spoke only when the judge asked him questions and responded in a whisper. He shook his head from side to side when asked if he understood why he was in court.

Amaral brought testimony from psychiatrist Stephen W. Siebert, who said evidence of Reid's mental illness -- impulsive behavior, hearing voices, rocking out of control -- has existed since he was 14. After a recent evaluation, Siebert concluded, "This is one of the most ill individuals I have ever evaluated."

But O'Malley brought psychiatrist Michael K. Spodak, who evaluated Reid at the time of the crime, and who said, "At no time did he give the suggestion he was delusional. He did not have a history of any major mental illness."

Spodak testified that Reid's serious mental illness did not surface until about three or four years after he stabbed Diffenderfer.

Pub Date: 2/26/97

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