Howard Week

November 30, 2003

Assistance, not jail, sought for group of mentally ill people

Mental health advocates are looking for ways to help a small group of mentally ill individuals who have become well known to Howard County police, attorneys and judges. They are not hardened career criminals, but they routinely commit minor crimes that put them through a revolving door of arrest, court, jail and back again.

With the help of key players in the criminal justice system, mental health advocates want to explore models to help this group receive assistance instead of jail time. As a first step, the board of directors of the county's Mental Health Authority met last month with attorneys, judges and other law enforcement and courthouse representatives for an informal discussion on the subject.

Ellicott City church needs financial help

For Civil War soldiers stationed in the area, it was a place to worship. In the wake of devastating floods over the years that damaged Main Street shops, the Ellicott City church offered storage space for merchandise.

Now Emory United Methodist Church, the 165-year-old stone structure that sits high on a hill above Main Street, needs help. Increasing maintenance costs and financial setbacks have put the future of the church in jeopardy.

"In terms of the spirit of the church, in terms of growth, it's great," said the Rev. L. Katherine Moore, the church's pastor.

"Economically, we're still faced with a lot of problems," she said. "It remains to be seen whether we can work it out."

Judge convicts Marine of fondling teen-ager

A 26-year-old Marine accused of fondling a teen-age recruit during a recruiting tour through parts of Howard County in late March was convicted Tuesday of misdemeanor assault and a sexual offense.

In a case that pitted the teen-ager's assertion that she told Staff Sgt. Shawn E. Potwin to stop touching her against his insistence that the contact was consensual, District Judge Sue-Ellen Hantman said she believed the victim.

Not only did the teen-ager testify that she told him no the night of the assault, she also called her friend in tears the night of the incident, Hantman said. And while Potwin testified that the teen-ager complimented him and showered him with attention, brushing up against him and leaving him notes, those actions fit into "his ideal fantasy," the judge said.

Suspect in shooting found not criminally responsible

A Howard Circuit Court judge found a 47-year-old Catonsville man not criminally responsible Tuesday for shooting and seriously wounding a school custodian in an Ellicott City Rite Aid store, and committed him indefinitely to a state mental institution.

James M. Lane faced attempted first-degree murder and other charges in the shooting Aug. 2 of Robert Lee Jackson Jr., who is chief custodian at Mayfield Woods Middle School in Elkridge.

"Psychiatrists will determine when, if ever, [Lane] will be released into society," Judge Lenore R. Gelfman said.

Lane will be held at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital in Jessup.

Accountant gets jail for stealing from church

A 53-year-old accountant who stole $50,000 from a Columbia church to pay back money he had taken from an estate was sentenced Tuesday to one year in jail.

Despite pleas for leniency from Charles Sylvester White's lawyers, family and colleagues, who said the thefts were a blip in what has been a stellar life, Howard Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. said he believed a jail term would show others tempted to commit the same crime that an "upstanding person ... had to pay the price for it."

"It might act to deter others," Kane said before imposing a three-year sentence with all but one year suspended. White was also sentenced to three years of probation for convictions of theft and attempted theft.

The sentence left White's family in tears. A lawyer for the church, First Baptist Church of Guilford, said he was disappointed that White would have to serve time.

Council considers easing certain zoning standards

The Howard County Council is poised to make official a longstanding practice to employ an easier standard for granting zoning changes to construct schools and other government buildings.

Now, governmental agencies, such as the school system, do not have to meet the strict standards used by the county Board of Appeals when asking for construction variances for its buildings, as other entities do. They deal only with the County Council, which has a much more lenient criterion: that the variance be in the public interest.

That standard was implied, but the council could make it official tomorrow night by adding to the county code wording that says as much, if the five members adopt a bill introduced by council Chairman Guy Guzzone.

Senior housing proposed for former Exxon site

In Oakland Mills Village Center sits a vacant 1.7-acre lot that has become one of the village's primary hopes to revitalize the struggling shopping center.

Once home to an Exxon service station, the site has remained empty since 2001, when the station, which closed in 1999, was demolished. However, the site could become the location of a 96-unit apartment building for senior citizens. Developer Jeffrey C. Kirby, founder of J. Kirby Development LLC, plans to build the complex. But the project cannot go forward unless the village receives approval for additional residential units, and Columbia has none to offer now.

The Rouse Co. is trying to get more residential units throughout Columbia by petitioning the county to increase the town's density. In its plan, Oakland Mills would receive 150 units.

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