James Olsson, 70, evaluated violent criminal offenders

July 28, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

James Eric Olsson, a psychologist who in more than four decades of practice was called upon to evaluate violent offenders and was called as an expert witness in two nationally noted trials, died of cancer Monday at his Mount Washington home. He was 70.

Dr. Olsson, who specialized in forensic psychology, had been director of a sex offender clinic at University of Maryland Medical Center and was chief psychologist for the medical office of Baltimore's Circuit Court for 28 years.

Born in Washington, he earned a bachelor's degree in psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master's and a doctorate from Catholic University of America.

He entered the field of psychology in 1963 as a research coordinator for a National Institute of Mental Health research program that studied the therapeutic effects of LSD on alcoholics.

"He was bright and a deep thinker, but was essentially a modest man who never tooted his own horn," said Jay I. Levinson, with whom he had a Lutherville practice for many years.

Dr. Olsson moved to Baltimore about 35 years ago.

He retired from his Circuit Court duties as chief psychologist about seven years ago.

"I relied upon Jim for psychological testing as well as for his clinical judgment of the entire case," said Dr. Jonas Rappeport, the city court's retired chief medical officer.

In 1972, Dr. Olsson evaluated Arthur H. Bremer and testified as an expert witness in his trial in Upper Marlboro for shooting presidential candidate and Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace in a Laurel shopping center parking lot.

He also examined John W. Hinckley Jr. and testified as an expert witness in Hinckley's trial in Washington for the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.

Dr. Olsson was also called upon to evaluate sex offenders.

"People treat all sex offenders as psychopaths," he told The Sun in 1997. "But sexual psychopaths are rare. We are trying to predict who will offend, and we can't do that."

Dr. Olsson supported laws requiring notice of sexual offenders living in the community, and he said people should have the right to know about registered offenders.

"But it's a scary thing. It adds to the hysteria that people could have," he told The Sun.

Dr. Olsson advised a common-sense response, saying that about 80 percent of sex offense victims know their assailant, so parents should get to know the people who come in contact with their children. He suggested not overreacting to the sex offender registry.

"That person on the registry is probably so scared out of their minds, they are keeping the lowest possible profile," Dr. Olsson said.

A leader in local psychology circles, Dr. Olsson served as president of the Maryland Psychological Association from 1980 to 1981. He helped get legislation passed to license psychologists and to allow psychologists to get insurance companies to pay for patient treatment.

He also worked to get a law enacted to certify that psychologists could be used as expert forensic witnesses in trials.

"He was instrumental in getting those bills passed," said his partner, Dr. Levinson. "He was a great problem-solver. He knew how to bring about compromise. I used to tease him that he should go to the Middle East."

Dr. Olsson was an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Services were held yesterday in Pikesville.

Survivors include his wife of 32 years, the former Diane Settler; two sons, Dr. Michael Schweitzer of Baltimore and David Eric Olsson of New York; a daughter, Leslie Marie Olsson of San Francisco; a brother, John Olsson of Washington; two sisters, Margaret Ganey and Mary Louise Van-Dyke, both of Washington; and two grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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