Son's mental state may have improved

Pasadena man held at psychiatric facility in mother's slaying

Sun Exclusive

December 09, 2007|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,Sun reporter

A Pasadena man, who had refused to take medicine that would make him mentally competent to stand trial in the murder of his mother, has "regained his capacity to make responsible decisions," doctors have determined.

The development, revealed in court papers filed in Howard County Circuit Court last week, could jump-start the trial of 26-year-old Zachary Thomas Neiman, which was postponed in August because he stopped taking psychiatric medications.

In September, Neiman, who is being held at the state psychiatric facility, Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, stopped eating; his intention was to kill himself, according to a family member. His refusal to eat or drink prompted the state attorney general's office to seek guardianship and have him fed through a tube.

Since then, the feeding tube has been removed and Neiman has begun taking his medications, according to his paternal grandmother, who said she speaks with him daily over the phone.

"He said he's taking the medicine because he wants to get to court and get this over with," said Frances Pyles of Easton, who was appointed Neiman's temporary guardian in the event that he pulled out the tube. "He is sounding a lot different, a lot more aware. But he has a long way to go."

Another competency hearing is scheduled for March.

After learning about the development with Neiman, prosecutors in Anne Arundel County - where Neiman is charged with killing his 53-year-old mother, Rae Bajus - said they would contact officials at Perkins.

"We have not been notified by Clifton T. Perkins as of this date as to any change with Mr. Neiman," said Kristin Riggin, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel state's attorney's office. "Upon hearing this information, we will be contacting Perkins to see if anything can be expedited."

Neiman has pleaded not criminally responsible to first-degree murder in the July 2006 shotgun slaying of his mother in their Pasadena home. His attorneys intend to show he has a history of mental illness.

Under Maryland law, Neiman cannot be forced to take psychiatric medication unless a judge determines that he poses a danger to himself or to others - a law that effectively allows a person to sacrifice his sanity to avoid the possibility of being sent to prison.

A person found incompetent to stand trial on a first-degree murder charge can remain in a state mental hospital for a decade, if he fails to become fit for trial. After that time, he can ask a judge to dismiss the charge. But that same judge can convert his criminal commitment to a civil commitment by finding the person is still dangerous - not uncommon for a first-degree murder suspect, experts have said.

Laura L. Cain, managing attorney for the adult mental health unit of the Maryland Disability Law Center, said there is a low threshold to determine whether a defendant is competent to stand trial, including an understanding of how the legal process works and being able to assist in his defense.

But she said that just because a defendant takes his medications and has been declared competent to make decisions about his medical care does not automatically mean that he can stand trial.

"Most of the people we talk to really, sincerely do want to move forward, and they're caught in this limbo, and it's really frustrating for them," Cain said. " ... But there are some people who have no response to the medications, and others who maybe do have a positive response, but still have a cognitive deficit."

Neiman, who said he didn't like the way the medicines made him feel, has insisted for months that he was competent to stand trial. In a handwritten letter to Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Paul Hackner in June, Neiman said that he had tried to fire his public defender and had been frustrated by postponements while doctors evaluated him.

But everyone had the same message for him: the ball was in his court.

"The doctors feel if you are compliant with their suggestions for medication, they can get you to the point where you can participate in litigation," Hackner told Neiman at an Aug. 13 hearing.

According to medical records recently filed in court, Neiman suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, causing a slew of disorders: depression, suicidal thoughts, hopelessness, anxiety, auditory hallucinations, and "hyper-religious and grandiose delusions." He has questioned in letters to Hackner why his "Christian/Pagan beliefs" have led doctors to label him "insane."

In September, officials at Perkins initiated guardianship hearings in Howard County after Neiman refused to eat or drink, according to court records. Doctors said Neiman lacked "sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions."

A judge ruled in September that Pyles could act as temporary guardian. But in a handwritten note sent to the court Nov. 24, she said Neiman no longer "wants or needs me as his guardian." Three days later, in a filing made public Tuesday, the state withdrew its petition for guardianship.

Pyles said Neiman, who she says is extremely smart and talks often about family, was trying to commit suicide by starving himself, and was placed on the feeding tube after not eating or drinking for about nine days. She said it was not long after he was hooked up to the tube that he decided to resume eating.

"He wanted to die, but he knew they weren't going to let him," she said.

Since then, she said, he has been taking his medicine, though she has not received confirmation from hospital officials. But she said she could hear the difference in his voice in their daily conversations.

He still has no remorse for the killing, saying that voices in his head told him to do it, she said. He has told her that he thinks everyone has such voices that control their behavior.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Melissa Harris contributed to this article.

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