Md. judge rules boy broke law in suicide

Youth too depressed to be accountable in death pact, court says

September 16, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

In the first application of the state's assisted suicide ban, an Anne Arundel County judge found yesterday that the Crofton teen-ager who had a suicide pact with his girlfriend violated that law, but suffered from such severe depression that he is not responsible for his actions.

Circuit Judge Pamela L. North rejected defense arguments that the law, sparked by Dr. Jack Kevorkian, applied only to health care workers helping terminally ill patients die.

She said that if the General Assembly wanted to cover only assisted suicides of terminally ill people, legislators could have narrowed the law this spring. An effort to change the law to apply only to adults, a result of this case, did not reach the House floor.

Ruling from the bench, North said the legislature "did not intend to exclude people like [the youth] from the statute."

The Sun does not identify juveniles accused of crimes.

The teen-ager was accused of helping Jennifer Garvey, his 15-year-old girlfriend, kill herself last Oct. 18, barely two weeks after Maryland became the 38th state in the nation to institute a ban on assisted suicide.

Garvey, also of Crofton, shot herself in the head with a gun belonging to the youth's stepfather, in the "underworld," a hangout in Crofton's storm sewers.

Suicide notes show that the couple - Arundel Senior High School students with histories of psychiatric troubles and suicide efforts - vowed to kill themselves because their parents were putting the brakes on their relationship.

County prosecutors, criticized for prosecuting the survivor of a suicide pact, said they were pleased with North's interpretation of the law.

"If it is a crime for a health care professional to assist a terminally ill person to die, shouldn't it be illegal for a private citizen to assist a suicidal, healthy person?" said William D. Roessler, a deputy state's attorney for Anne Arundel County.

Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, said he doubted the coming legislative session would see a renewed effort to change the law.

"We obviously could not foresee every situation that could come up. The object of the law is to say that a person should not assist someone to kill themselves," the Baltimore County Democrat said.

"Even if this situation was not intended, I agree with Judge North that it does cover it. ... I don't think people should help other people commit suicide."

The youth's attorneys had asked North to dismiss the assisted suicide allegation, maintaining that the law applied only to health care workers and that prosecutors had no proof that their client supplied the gun to Jennifer.

"We disagree with her decision," said William M. Davis, assistant public defender.

North also ruled that the youth violated the state laws on carrying a handgun and reckless endangerment.

A decision on whether to appeal will come later, Davis said.

After finding the youth not criminally responsible for his actions - akin to an insanity ruling - North ordered a mental health evaluation at Crownsville Hospital Center.

She scheduled a hearing for Friday to decide how the youth should be treated.

Among her options are to find, based on a psychiatric report, that he should be hospitalized or should remain at home and receive outpatient treatment. He has been under home detention since late March, receiving psychiatric care.

Because this is a juvenile case, the court can exercise authority over the youth until he is 21, Davis said.

In ruling that the youth was too mentally disturbed to control his behavior the night of the suicide pact gone awry, North relied heavily on the opinions of two psychiatrists.

Dr. David A. Williamson was the sole witness yesterday, testifying that severe depression had distorted the teen-ager's thought process. A letter from a Crownsville Hospital Center psychiatrist concurred.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael O. Bergeson argued yesterday that although the youth was suffering from severe depression, he was able to control his actions.

The teen-ager, who rocked and swiveled in his chair through much of the two-hour proceeding, told police in a statement the night of Jennifer's death that he gave her the gun.

After they hugged and kissed, he said, he walked around a corner. He changed his mind about suicide, but before he could run back, Jennifer shot herself in the head, he said.

He said he was unable to find the weapon in the dark, dank storm drain and ran to a friend's house.

Bergeson argued that the youth could have readily found the gun a few inches from his girlfriend's hand and that his decision not to kill himself showed that he was capable of controlling his acts.

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