Hickey inmate pleads guilty in '99 assault

Teen's attack on nurse highlighted concerns about juvenile justice

June 28, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A 17-year-old Baltimore youth admitted in Baltimore County Circuit Court yesterday that he sexually assaulted a nurse at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School last year, in an incident that helped highlight problems in the state's juvenile justice system.

Felix Fitzgerald of the 400 block of E. Biddle St. pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual assault in the attack on June 25, 1999. The 40-year-old nurse was working alone in a medical clinic at the facility in Cub Hill.

Jill Savage, assistant state's attorney, said Fitzgerald slipped through an unlocked door in a kitchen area shortly after 6 p.m. and jumped a Dutch door to get into an office where the victim was working.

Fitzgerald, who disguised himself by wrapping a T-shirt around his face, choked the woman, grabbed her by the arms and sexually assaulted her, Savage said.

Fitzgerald was caught after another Hickey employee saw him fleeing the area, the T-shirt still wrapped around his head, Savage said.

He later confessed but argued that the sex was consensual.

Savage asked Judge Alexander Wright Jr. yesterday to sentence Fitzgerald to a life term, suspending all but 40 years.

But Wright postponed sentencing Fitzgerald until Aug. 28 so that state officials could conduct a presentence investigation.

Fitzgerald, described as borderline developmentally disabled, suffered from lead-paint exposure as an infant, was kept back in second grade and was not placed in special-education classes in Baltimore until he was 13, according to court records.

He spent six months at another juvenile facility in 1997, and at the time of the assault he was being held at Hickey on charges of robbery, assault, assault with a deadly weapon and handgun violations.

The victim declined to comment yesterday.

A spokesman for the company that provides security at Hickey, Correctional Services Corp., said that since the attack, security guards have been posted to watch juveniles working in the kitchen area.

The case helped spotlight problems in Maryland's juvenile justice system.

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

In January, Gov. Parris N. Glendening ousted former Juvenile Justice Secretary Gilberto DeJesus and four other administrators after a task force confirmed reports, detailed in a series of articles in The Sun, that guards at three juvenile boot camps in Garrett County routinely assaulted juvenile offenders.

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