Illness fogged teen's mind

Arundel survivor of suicide pact was ill, psychiatrist say

Girlfriend killed self

Judge will decide whether to accept 2 doctors' findings

July 07, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Two psychiatrists say the Crofton teen-ager accused of helping his girlfriend kill herself in the fall in a suicide pact gone awry was too mentally ill to be held responsible.

The finding does not end the first test case of Maryland's ban on assisted suicide, but it is likely to form the basis of the equivalent of an insanity defense that could result in the youth's being placed under the supervision of state mental health officials while not giving him a juvenile court record.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael O. Bergeson confirmed yesterday that each side's psychiatrist said the 16-year-old boy was too depressed to keep his behavior within the law.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Pamela L. North must decide whether to accept the psychiatrists' findings.

"It's a legal justification for the action - if, in fact, he is guilty - that excuses his behavior," said William Davis, one of two assistant public defenders for the youth. He said he would prefer a finding that the youth was not criminally responsible.

"Being found delinquent is the same as being found guilty," Davis said. A finding of not criminally responsible "indicates he was not responsible, and he's going to get the treatment that he needs that the state says they were doing this for."

The youth, now 16, is also accused of reckless endangerment and illegal possession of a handgun in the death Oct. 18 of Jennifer Garvey, 15, of Crofton.

Police say he took his stepfather's gun to a local hangout, Crofton storm sewers known as "the underworld," where he and Jennifer planned to kill themselves.

After Jennifer shot herself in the head, the teen-ager, then 15, panicked and ran to a friend's home, police say.

Jennifer's suicide note indicated that the two Arundel Senior High School students were upset over fears that their parents would curtail their relationship.

Her parents have blamed her boyfriend for her death. Described by her father as a good student and loving daughter who gave them no trouble until she started a turbulent relationship with the teen-ager in May 1999, Jennifer was under psychiatric care at the time of her suicide.

Her father declined to comment yesterday about the psychiatric reports on her boyfriend.

Her boyfriend, who is not being identified by The Sun because of his age, has a history of psychiatric hospitalizations and drug use and has been in trouble with the law.

Bergeson would not speculate on whether the doctors' recommendations would damage the state's case or their possible influence on a key ruling North has to make. Bergeson said his goal is "to have court supervision over his counseling."

North must decide whether to admit as evidence the statements the youth made to police within hours of his girlfriend's suicide, the same time period when the psychiatrists said he had a mental disorder that prevented him from behaving according to the law.

Defense attorneys contend that police pressured the teen-ager into giving a statement though he was too distraught to understand his right not to speak to them. Police arranged for an emergency mental evaluation only after the questioning, the attorneys said. Police have denied wrongdoing.

Bergeson said prosecutors will accept the conclusions of their psychiatrist, Dr. Jay A. LeBow, senior attending psychiatrist at Crownsville Hospital Center.

"We are not going to shop around for doctors," Bergeson said.

Dr. David Williamson of Annapolis, who examined the youth for the defense in April, reached the same conclusion.

Under juvenile court rules, the judge must first decide whether the teen-ager was involved in Jennifer's suicide, Bergeson said.

If she finds he was involved, North will have to decide whether he was criminally responsible.

If she decides he was not, the state Department of Mental Health and Hygiene would supervise his treatment until its officials declare that he does not need therapy.

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