Doctor sent man home day before 2 killings

Judge rules he wasn't criminally responsible

September 05, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Twenty-four hours before Benjamin Morgan Hawkes, believing he was, alternately, Jesus Christ and Satan, killed his mother and a teen-age boarder in their Columbia home, a Howard County General Hospital physician made a diagnosis of "stable" but suffering from "anxiety" and sent him home with a prescription for anti-anxiety medicine, according to reports made public yesterday.

It was the mental health system's latest and most deadly failure in its 14 years of periodically housing and treating Hawkes as he struggled with mental illness, Public Defender Carol A. Hanson said yesterday.

"Benjamin Hawkes is not responsible. ... For this is a tragic case of missed opportunities," Hanson said in urging Howard Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure to accept the recommendations of psychiatrists who said Hawkes, who was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia when he killed Mary Jane Hawkes, 59, and Teena Wu, 18.

During a 45-minute hearing that included an account of the violence in the Hawkes family's Wild Filly Court home Feb. 11 and an accounting of Ben Hawkes' contacts with mental health professionals, Leasure found Hawkes not criminally responsible for the attacks and committed him indefinitely to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup.

As prosecutor Mary Murphy explained how Hawkes marked his mother and Wu for death but spared his teen-age sister Katie, Hawkes, 26, fidgeted and kept his eyes closed. A fourth person in the house that day, Katie Hawkes' friend Rebecca Grastorf, hid in a downstairs bathroom and was later escorted from the house by Howard County police.

Through Murphy's 12 1/2 -page account, a transcript of Ben Hawkes' interview with a police detective and psychiatric and medical reports entered into evidence, Ben Hawkes' descent into the paranoia and delusion that led to the killings came into focus yesterday, as did his and his family's attempts to get help for him in the days, months and years before.

Hospitalized because of suicidal writings at age 12, Hawkes was an artistically gifted youth who had trouble in school, abused alcohol and drugs, had repeated anxiety attacks and received diagnoses of attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

The problems grew, and in January last year, Howard County General Hospital physicians had him committed at Springfield Hospital Center. He had suffered from paranoia - believing his food was poisoned and shutting himself in his room - for a month or two, and his parents called police.

At Howard County General, he told evaluators that he "had fantasies of trying to kill people" and also said, "I now understand how people feel who murder their entire families," according to psychiatric reports.

After two months, he was discharged into Springfield's residential treatment program but was kicked out with a month's supply of medication in July last year after he was caught with a six-pack of beer. That decision drew a rebuke from Hanson.

"People who are mentally ill need more treatment, not less treatment," she told Leasure, adding that there is "no evidence" that Hawkes' family was told of the threats he had made.

By the week before the killings, Hawkes, anxious and paranoid, called a clinic but couldn't get an appointment for two weeks, according to a psychiatric report.

The day before the assaults, his father took him again to Howard General Hospital. A doctor talked to him for half an hour, diagnosed "anxiety" and noted that Hawkes had no suicidal or homicidal thoughts, and that schizophrenia had been diagnosed previously, according to the medical report.

The doctor discharged him with a Xanax pill and a prescription for more.

"The hospital knew of the prior diagnosis. He's seen for 30 minutes and released," Hanson said.

A Howard County General Hospital spokesman said yesterday that the hospital had no comment.

The next afternoon, Feb. 11, Hawkes, wearing a bathrobe and with an American flag draped around his neck, walked four miles from a friend's house where he had spent the night and into his parents' house. His mother and sister were preparing dinner.

He used at least two knives and a sledgehammer as he attacked Mary Jane Hawkes first. He then chased Wu into her upstairs bedroom while telling Katie to get out of the house.

Hawkes, naked, covered in blood and proclaiming himself "Jesus," met police officers at the door. Officers found Mary Jane Hawkes' body by a broken marble hearth, an American flag nearby. Wu's body was found in her bedroom, blocking the door.

Ben Hawkes later told investigators that he was doing a "job for my country" and that he killed his mother and Wu because they believed a "fascist" ideology and that he spared his sister because "I care about her and love her," according to psychiatric reports.

Hawkes has been at Perkins since the killings. Debra Hammen, a social worker with the state health department, said yesterday that Hawkes can ask for an annual hearing requesting release but that "typically, somebody with a murder charge, we're talking years" of commitment.

After yesterday's hearing, lawyers for the Hawkes and Wu families said they plan to scrutinize the newly released reports.

"The Wu family is very concerned that Teena's death resulted from an inappropriate and superficial contact with Howard County General Hospital," attorney David Thomas said.

Through attorney John E. Harris, Hawkes' relatives said that yesterday's proceedings "provoked intense and painful emotions" and that they plan to "fully explore the mental health issues surrounding this tragic loss to determine whether" the killings were preventable.

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