Prisoner, doctor make plea for help

Oft-charged convict Solothal Thomas suffers from depression, other problems, mental health records say

December 16, 2005|By MATTHEW DOLAN | MATTHEW DOLAN,SUN REPORTER

Police and prosecutors once called him one of the most dangerous men roaming the city. Now his prison doctor describes the accused West Baltimore hit man as a clinically depressed patient who misses his mother and needs Prozac.

Such is Solothal "Itchy Man" Thomas' life behind bars. "You have a black male, 6'1", a 177 pounds, 28 years of age, never use drugs except smoke newports," Thomas wrote last year in a plea for psychological help. "I have been charged with 13 att-murder different times as well with 3 murders for the last pass 10 years. I've been through more pain than one person go though in a life time."

Local law enforcement officials see Thomas differently. For years, they say, he beat the rap again and again, escaping convictions for killing two people and attempting to kill a dozen more.

A 2002 Sun investigation titled "Justice Undone" identified the roots of his success: lackluster investigations by police, slip-ups by prosecutors and a lack of cooperation from witnesses too afraid to speak out.

Law enforcement officials think the tide turned last year when federal prosecutors brought new drug and murder conspiracy charges against Thomas, saddling him with an indictment that could bring him the death penalty.

He is being held at Supermax, the maximum-security prison in Baltimore.

Police and prosecutors have long tracked Thomas' criminal history. Prison mental health records filed in federal court for the first time describe another side: a troubled man born into extreme poverty who was all-but-abandoned in public housing by his drug-addicted parents.

In one account, the man federal prosecutors labeled an "enforcer" for a huge marijuana operation fumed at an offer of drugs from his father, saying cocaine and heroin had ruined his parents' lives.

Shaky mental health might explain his latest choice, trying to fire his attorney and arguing that the federal courts have no jurisdiction over his "flesh and blood."

Thomas is scheduled to make his motion to dismiss the case to U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake in court this morning.

"It does not have any merit," Thomas' court-appointed lawyer, Arcangelo M. Tuminelli, said of the motion filed by his client. "And I think it is adverse to the interest of my client."

In addition, Tuminelli thinks federal prosecutors have ruled out any effort to pursue the death penalty against Thomas. The U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore declined to comment.

Thomas' feats were once legendary. He astounded police in 1996 by scaling a public housing high-rise, climbing from balcony to balcony until he disappeared into a vacant seventh-floor apartment.

His arrest in November of that year started his remarkable odyssey through the criminal justice system.

During that time, Thomas was tried four times and was acquitted four times after juries heard cases rife with police missteps and reliance on lone witnesses who disavowed their identifications of him as the gunman.

A rare conviction came in a January 1998 plea agreement that got him a brief sentence and eliminated nine attempted-murder counts and other charges. Thomas later spent about a year in prison for illegal possession of a bulletproof vest before returning home to Baltimore last year.

Then federal prosecutors swooped in, charging that Thomas and three other men were violent "enforcers" for a marijuana organization and shared $10,000 for their suspected roles in killing a Baltimore County man in 2001.

Prosecutors say the men were part of a widespread marijuana trafficking organization that supplied various "markets," violently retaliating against those who tried to interfere.

According to the new court records from the prison psychologist, Thomas acknowledges a record of criminal activity that goes back to the age of 11, when he began stealing cars.

At the core of his depression, he said, was the haunting loss of his parents to AIDS. His mother, he told his doctor, never told him about her terminal illness.

"His most memorable memory was an incident when she was on the phone," prison psychologist Stephen Dunn wrote on Oct. 4, 2004.

Thomas recalled that as a child he tried unsuccessfully to get his mother's attention, according to the medical records. "He continued it until she took the receiver and hit him over the side of the head. Immediately afterward, she profusely apologized and showed him love and concern," Dunn wrote.

Thomas, who got married on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2004, has two children from other relationships, according to his account provided to Dunn.

"I'm always depress and a lot more other things that I can't put on paper because I'll be haul off to the butt naked room and I don't want that. ... but I need help honestly," he wrote.

California psychiatrist Terry Kupers, author of Prison Madness: The Mental Health Crisis Behind Bars and What We Must Do About It, said expressing suicidal thoughts as Thomas did is one of the few ways of getting mental health care in prison.

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