Spicknall lawyers say exam was stalled

Delay in psychiatric evaluation of client hurts defense, they contend

February 29, 2000|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

CHESTERTOWN -- Defense lawyers for a Laurel man accused of killing his two children last fall contended yesterday that Talbot County officials deliberately stalled a psychiatric evaluation that could have provided crucial evidence.

During an unusual pretrial hearing in Kent County Circuit Court, a three-member legal team for Richard Wayne Spicknall II called a District Court judge, a detention center warden and a member of the team's Baltimore law firm to testify.

Despite repeated attempts during the week after Spicknall's arrest, defense lawyers say, a private neuropsychiatrist was not allowed to examine their 27-year-old client.

"These were the most important days for the defense, the days when evidence was fresh," said attorney Michael Belsky.

"It is our contention that the state was wrong, that the most basic of constitutional rights was violated."

Spicknall -- whose case was moved from Talbot to neighboring Kent County when prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty -- is accused of shooting 2-year-old Richard Wayne Spicknall III and 3-year-old Destiny Array Spicknall as they sat strapped in car safety seats Sept. 9.

At first, Spicknall told police an armed hitchhiker had thrown him into the Choptank River from a U.S. 50 bridge and sped away in a Jeep with the two children.

According to court records, he confessed to the killings during 16 hours of questioning by state police investigators.

Neuropsychiatrist David Williamson was hired to evaluate Spicknall's emotional state and to determine whether he had suffered a concussion, or other head injury, that might have impaired his judgment before making the statement to police.

Williamson said he heard conflicting explanations when officials refused for five days to allow him to enter the Talbot County jail in Easton.

District Court Judge William H. Adkins III, who presided over the initial part of the case, testified yesterday that he had never instructed detention center officials to refuse to grant access to Spicknall.

"I don't have the authority to tell the warden what to do," Adkins said.

But Lawrence DiNisio, the warden who has run the detention center for 13 years, said Adkins told him not to allow anyone to examine Spicknall "until he had been evaluated by a court-ordered psychiatrist."

Judge J. Frederick Price, who turned down a defense motion yesterday to move Spicknall's trial because of extensive publicity on the Eastern Shore, will continue the hearing Friday.

The judge has set an April 17 trial date.

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