Judge to allow account of suicide

Teen's statement about girl's death to be heard in court

July 08, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Rebuffing the defense in the first test of Maryland's assisted-suicide law, an Anne Arundel judge will allow prosecutors to use a Crofton boy's admissions about his girlfriend's death.

The youth, now 16, is the first person accused of violating Maryland's ban on assisted suicide, a law that took effect about two weeks before the suicide Oct. 18, 1999, of 15-year-old Jennifer Garvey of Crofton. The boy is also accused of reckless endangerment and handgun possession in what police say was a suicide pact gone awry.

The ruling, which was relayed to lawyers in the case yesterday, is a key win for prosecutors.

"It's important. He is the only eyewitness," said Michael O. Bergeson, the assistant state's attorney handling the case.

Without that evidence, prosecutors would have had to look to other people, including an ambulance worker who spoke with the youth before police did, to present some of the information that is in his statement, he said.

Defense attorneys contended that the teen-ager's statement was not voluntary and should be thrown out. They said the teen-ager, a troubled youth whose past includes psychiatric hospitalizations and drug use, was mentally ill and too distraught to give a voluntary statement, and was wrongly held by police.

The Sun does not identify juveniles charged in criminal cases.

"I'm disappointed in the decision," said William Davis, one of the youth's two public defenders. He said he thought they made a solid presentation of their bid to suppress the statement at a hearing in May.

A note by Jennifer Garvey found at the scene indicated the two Arundel High School students, who had a turbulent five-month relationship, planned to kill themselves because their parents wanted to keep them apart.

Police said the boy, then 15, took his stepfather's gun. He and Jennifer Garvey went to what local youths called "the underground" - large, dank storm sewers in Crofton that have long been a hangout for teen-agers. There, she shot herself in the head.

According to testimony at a pretrial hearing and reports from police, the boy then panicked and ran to a friend's house, where a parent called police. After he directed police to the girl's body, investigators brought the youth from the scene for four hours of questioning at their offices.

The ruling by Circuit Judge Pamela L. North comes shortly after psychiatrists reported that the teen-ager was too depressed to be held responsible for his actions. North would make a decision on that matter after she determines whether he was involved in the girl's death.

But in a 13-page opinion filed Thursday that allows the youth's statements at a trial, North wrote that even if the teen-ager were suffering from psychiatric problems, he was not so impaired that he did not know what he was saying.

"Each answer he gave was directly responsive to the questions asked. He chose to assist police by drawing a diagram to aid them in locating Ms. Garvey. All the evidence supports a finding that he knew precisely what he was saying," North wrote.

She said the illegal way he was taken into custody was "insignificant" in light of the "nonthreatening" behavior by police toward him.

The youth, who Davis said has complied with all home detention rules, is scheduled to appear in court Monday for a review of his detention.

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