Judge says killer victim of delusions

She rules man, 47, was not criminally responsible in stabbing

April 25, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A 47-year-old man who fatally stabbed an acquaintance who visited his Columbia apartment more than two years ago was not criminally responsible for his actions at the time of the killing, a Howard Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday.

Rodney Maurice Stanley was convicted last fall of second-degree murder in the Aug. 17, 2000, death of 32-year-old Thomas Jefferson Harding after long-standing questions of his competency to stand trial were resolved.

Yesterday, Judge Diane O. Leasure said she agreed with a defense expert who said Stanley suffered from delusions and hallucinations - a result of a major depressive disorder that led to psychotic behavior - and believed Harding was threatening him. As a result, Stanley could not understand that his conduct was criminal, she said.

"He was of the firm belief, although delusional, that he was acting in self-defense," Leasure said before committing Stanley indefinitely to the care of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Stanley, who was in the Howard County Detention Center as of yesterday, likely will be housed at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, the state's maximum-security mental hospital.

Leasure's ruling from the bench came a week after lawyers for the state and for Stanley presented conflicting analyses of Stanley's mental state the night of the stabbing through experts who disagreed on Stanley's criminal responsibility.

Defense expert Dr. Neil Howard Blumberg testified during the April 16 hearing that a psychiatrist who had treated Stanley before the stabbing and saw him two days before Harding's death noted that he was still delusional. Stanley had been calling police recently to report stalkers and harassment, but police could find no proof, Blumberg said.

Stanley viewed the killing as self-defense, but it was more likely "psychotic self-defense," the psychiatrist said.

"His persecutory beliefs led him to believe that, in fact, his life was imminently in danger," he said.

Prosecution expert Caitilin Stetson, a psychologist at Perkins, said Stanley's actions after the stabbing - which left Harding suffering from eight stab wounds and 11 slashing wounds - were "appropriate" and showed that he understood what he had done. He even enlisted a roommate to tell authorities that he was defending himself - proof, she said, that he knew he had done something wrong.

The roommate, Marcia Minor, testified in September that she came out of her room in the 8800 block of Roll Right Court only after Stanley asked her to call 911 and that he told her to lie and "say it was in self-defense."

Stanley testified during his trial that he had previously refused to rent Harding a room and that he was only protecting himself after Harding, who was drunk, picked up a knife. A medical examiner testified that Harding's blood-alcohol level was 0.23 percent, almost three times the legal driving limit.

Stetson said Stanley might have been suffering from "misperceptions" at the time of the killing but that they did not rise to the level of psychotic delusions.

After yesterday's hearing, Harding's mother and aunt said they worry that Stanley will know how to "work the system for his benefit" and figure a way to get out of Perkins.

Since her son's death, Catherine Thomas said, she has been working to help Harding's 12-year-old daughter.

"Maybe she'll never get over it because they were so close," she said.

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