Delusional defendant spared trial Would-be secret agent ruled incompetent to aid his own defense

November 03, 1998|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Despite an unusual public repudiation by the CIA, Daniel Shykind clings to the belief that he is a secret agent, making him mentally incompetent to stand trial on fraud charges, a Montgomery County Circuit judge ruled yesterday.

Judge S. Michael Pincus agreed with defense experts who said Shykind will not help his lawyers because he thinks it entails giving away government secrets.

"His factual understandings are distorted," Pincus said. "In other words, he can't tell his counsel the truth."

Shykind, 30, will not be tried until he is treated and found competent. Pincus will determine his treatment at a hearing Thursday.

UPDATE: The charges and court records were ultimately expunged.

During the four-day hearing, mental health experts for both sides outlined a remarkable resume built in Shykind's mind over the past decade: United Airlines pilot, a Yale-trained medical doctor, physics instructor at the University of Maryland and an Air Force fighter pilot.

The stories were a cover for his real job as a pilot and later recruiter for the CIA, Shykind confided to doctors.

Defense experts and lawyers argued that the stories show mentally ill man consumed by his delusion of being a secret agent.

"Sometimes we all have a Walter Mitty fantasy," explained Dr. David Pickar, a defense witness. "This permeated all aspects of his life, his marriage, his functioning."

But prosecutor Suzanne Schneider said Shykind created new identities when it suited his needs, including using the pilot's uniform to bilk 14 airline employees and longtime friends out of $30,700.

Shykind told the alleged victims he was running a foreign currency exchange out of Guatemala City National Airport and needed seed money.

The prosecutor said Shykind, a college dropout, concocted stories to impress people and to keep up with his highly successful older brothers.

For his first wife, a nurse, Shykind posed as a doctor. That marriage was annulled after one week when his new in-laws confronted him about his lie. For his second wife, a flight attendant, he posed as a pilot, Schneider said.

She also noted that Shykind once told his parents about a secret mission and later returned to their home with a tan, which they found out he got at a salon.

"If a person believes he is a CIA pilot flying to Central America, why go to a tanning salon to keep up the illusion?" she said. "It was easier to go to a tanning parlor and lie about it than go back to college and earn a degree."

Eight years ago, Shykind was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder after he claimed to have witnessed an execution by government agents on a jet he piloted.

The doctor in that case, Robert Nover, told a state psychiatrist that he doubted the story "but Dan had an uncanny way of presenting himself."

The state doctor, Dennis Barton, said, "Mr. Shykind has, from an early age, tried to portray himself as something he isn't. He does that because of his low self-esteem."

Dr. Charles Filson, a defense witness, said he confronted Shykind about his CIA employment just days before the start of the hearing and told him it was time to come clean.

"He began to rock back and forth in an autistic way. He began to sob and then cry. His wife had to comfort him," Filson testified. "He kept saying, 'But I am, I am employed. I do have these memories.' "

Pub Date: 11/03/98

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