Mentally ill teen vanishes on visit DeCosta serving time in mental facility for her role in '95 killing

August 27, 1998|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

Jane Frances DeCosta, a Timonium teen-ager sent to a locked mental facility for her role in the 1995 killing of a Sheppard xTC and Enoch Pratt Hospital counselor, vanished yesterday from her parents' home, where she had been staying as she waited to testify in an unrelated case.

The 17-year-old's lawyer, M. Cristina Gutierrez, said DeCosta -- who had a history of running away -- left the house "sometime after 4 a.m. She took nothing, no money, no backpack, no clothes."

A private investigator hired by DeCosta's family, as well as Baltimore County police, were searching for the girl yesterday after her mother reported her missing about 11 a.m.

Yesterday afternoon, Assistant State's Attorney John P. Cox obtained a "body attachment," similar to a warrant, to allow police to arrest her because she failed to appear as a witness in the trial.

"It appears she left in a panic. It's very much a pattern with her," said Gutierrez, who said the girl has "severe mental illness, is very depressive and bipolar."

DeCosta was convicted last year of being an accessory after the fact in the murder of Sharon Edwards, a 26-year-old single mother who was stabbed 26 times by Benjamin Scott Garris, who was 16 at the time.

Garris is serving a life sentence without parole for the murder. He and DeCosta were students at the Forbush School on the hospital grounds. DeCosta had confessed to police that she supplied the hunting knife Garris used in the stabbing.

The murder, followed by the three-week search for Garris and DeCosta, was notable for details of the teen-agers' troubled history, the grisly details of the stabbing and the fire set at the cottage where Edwards worked on the hospital grounds.

Police said at the time that Garris was fascinated by violent films and literature -- notably the 1971 film "A Clockwork Orange," in which a sadistic British gang of "droogs" commits murder, rape and mayhem.

In January 1997, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Barbara Kerr Howe gave DeCosta a suspended prison sentence, placed her on probation and ordered her to a locked mental facility for at least two years. Howe also ordered her to submit to random urinalysis, not to use drugs and to attend school while in treatment.

DeCosta has been at a mental facility for troubled teen-agers in northern Florida since her conviction. She was returned to Maryland over the weekend to testify in an unrelated case involving the county Detention Center, where she spent 15 months before and during her trial. She was not charged with a crime in that case.

She traveled to Maryland by airplane, accompanied by a therapist from the facility where she has been living, her lawyer and a county prosecutor.

After DeCosta's disappearance yesterday, that case was postponed until Dec. 1.

Assistant State's Attorney S. Ann Brobst, who prosecuted DeCosta in the Sheppard Pratt case, said a court would have to determine if the girl's disappearance is a violation of probation.

Yesterday, DeCosta's parents, Richard and Peggy DeCosta, were waiting at their Timonium home, hoping to hear that their daughter had been found.

Richard DeCosta said the waiting rekindled memories of the "nightmare" they endured when she disappeared for nearly three weeks with Garris after the murder.

"We're just waiting to see how everything works out," he said.

The couple said their daughter had been making significant progress at the Florida facility.

"She's grown so much in the past three years," said her mother. Added her father, "Emotionally, in maturity."

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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