Judge won't give escapee what he wants - prison

Bechtold will remain in max-security hospital

August 14, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A 33-year-old patient at the state's maximum security hospital who said he hoped his December 1999 escape from the facility would force authorities to send him to prison instead received a suspended term yesterday - a sentence that will effectively keep him at the hospital he sought to leave.

In opting against prison time for assault and weapons convictions related to the escape, Howard Circuit Judge Diane O. Leasure said yesterday that she worried that Brian A. Bechtold's mental problems would not adequately be addressed if he were transferred from Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup to the state corrections system.

And, she said, "in this particular case, I fear that by imposing a [prison] sentence, I am rewarding Mr. Bechtold."

Leasure's decision to impose a 13-year suspended sentence was the result of a two-day trial and sentencing that featured threats from a subdued, matter-of-fact Bechtold, who compared his situation to the mental patients in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

"I kind of feel like something bad will happen if I stay at Perkins," he said.

He said doctors at the institution do not treat his migraine headaches and that he may one day "become irrational" as a result of the "suffering."

"Does the court want me to come back here on a more serious charge? That's my question because it seems likely," he said.

Bechtold, who, according to court testimony, suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and has a history of persecutory delusions, has been at Perkins since he was found not criminally responsible in the February 1992 shotgun killings of his parents in Bethesda.

Nearly eight years later, Bechtold took a metal piece off an ironing board and sharpened it into a weapon, according to court testimony this week. He used the "spike" on Dec. 5, 1999, to threaten a Perkins nurse into taking him from his locked ward to an unlocked ward, according to testimony.

Security guards tried to stop him in the lobby, but he managed to escape.

Shot by police

Bechtold was arrested after two officers shot him as he lunged toward a security guard who was sitting in a truck in the lot of Apollo Moving and Storage in Savage, according to testimony.

His lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Louis P. Willemin, argued that his client, who repeatedly asked officers to shoot him, wanted only to escape Perkins or "to get the police to kill him."

Leasure, who tried the case instead of a jury, found Bechtold guilty yesterday of two charges - second-degree assault and a weapons violation - but acquitted him of a second assault charge. On Monday, the judge dismissed an escape charge related to the incident.

Wait for competency

In the months after the escape, Bechtold told doctors that he had escaped from Perkins because the "nation of Islam" was an "evil empire" that would use violence to destroy the United States - and New York in particular - at the millennium, Willemin said yesterday.

It was two years after the escape before doctors agreed that Bechtold was finally competent to stand trial, he said.

Prosecutor Lynn Marshall said the incident left the nurse, Norma Cunningham, with lasting emotional and psychological trauma. Cunningham no longer works at Perkins, Marshall said.

"This is a sad case," she said.

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