Teen is found competent to be tried in rape case

Hickey school counselor was assaulted in June

April 07, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A 17-year-old was found competent yesterday to stand trial in Baltimore County Circuit Court on charges that he raped a counselor at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in June in an attack that helped highlight problems in the juvenile justice system.

Felix Fitzgerald is to be tried Tuesday on charges of first-degree assault and first-degree sex offense after Judge John G. Turnbull II ruled that he is mentally fit to face trial.

Turnbull denied yesterday Fitzgerald's request to transfer the case to juvenile court, which would have meant more lenient treatment.

"I find no reason to do that," Turnbull said. "His record is horrendous, to say the least."

Fitzgerald was sent to Hickey in November 1998 after being found delinquent in robbery, assault, assault with a deadly weapon and handgun charges, sources said. He also had spent six months at a Frederick detention facility on other charges in 1997.

Margaret Pulsifer, a Washington psychologist hired to argue that Fitzgerald should be found mentally incompetent, said he suffered from lead paint exposure as an infant, was kept back in the second grade and not placed in special education classes in Baltimore until he was 13.

"He's functioning at a 9-year-old level," Pulsifer said.

Dr. Alan LeBow, a state psychiatrist, said Fitzgerald plays chess, can handle basic math problems, understands the charges and has claimed that he is innocent because the alleged victim consented to having sex.

"This was not a difficult evaluation," LeBow said.

Kevin Carter, Fitzgerald's case manager at Hickey, said Fitzgerald was not a disciplinary problem in his seven months at Hickey before the attack in June.

"He was actually someone who would keep others in line," Carter said.

The attack occurred about 6 p.m. June 25, police said.

Fitzgerald slipped out an unlocked door in the kitchen area, where he was working with six other delinquents with only a dishwasher supervising them, they said.

He masked himself by wrapping a T-shirt around his face and jumped a Dutch door into an office where a female counselor was working alone, police said.

Fitzgerald choked her, forced her to the ground and threatened to kill her if she did not stop screaming, according to court documents.

A spokesman for Correctional Services Corp., which provides security at Hickey for the state, said security has been tightened since the incident, with guards posted to watch delinquents while they are on kitchen work details.

The case helped put a spotlight on problems in the troubled state Department of Juvenile Justice.

Three days after the incident, three youths escaped from Victor Cullen Academy in Frederick County by prying open security screens on two dormitory windows.

Gilberto DeJesus was ousted as juvenile justice secretary in January after a state task force confirmed reports in a series of Sun articles that guards at juvenile boot camps in Garrett County had routinely assaulted youth offenders.

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