Gunman Committed To Perkins Hospital

July 04, 2009|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,

In Marvin Ferguson's mind, his next-door neighbor was the leader of "the enoch people" - an alliance of pixies and fairies plotting to attack his 8-year-old daughter on an October 2006 morning.

But in reality, Billy Horne had just stopped wiping down his truck to chat with the newspaper deliveryman when Ferguson charged from his house with a 12-gauge shotgun and opened fire. Horne died at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Last month, Baltimore Circuit Judge Martin P. Welch found Ferguson, a paranoid schizophrenic, guilty of murder but not criminally responsible, Maryland's legal term for insanity. He was committed to the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center until such time that a judge finds that Ferguson is no longer a threat to himself or others.

The disorder appears to have taken hold of Ferguson, then a bus driver with a fiancee and no criminal record, in 2005.

From Jan. 1, 2005, to Oct. 1, 2006, the date of Horne's killing, Baltimore police were dispatched 13 times to Ferguson's home in the 3800 block of Lyndale Ave., according to a department spokesman.

At least twice, in December 2005 and March 2006, Ferguson was involuntarily committed - a process known as an emergency petition - to Union Memorial Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, according to a source with knowledge of Ferguson's medical history who declined to be named because the records are confidential.

During the March 2006 visit, in which he was kept at the hospital for three days, Ferguson was diagnosed with several disorders, including paranoid schizophrenia, and medical records indicate that Ferguson had been sleeping with knives and axes under his bed, the source said.

It's not clear whether doctors at Union Memorial prescribed medication or recommended treatment. If so, Ferguson likely didn't follow it, said his attorney, Timothy M. Dixon.

"An emergency petition only gets you to an emergency room to be evaluated," said Susan Steinberg, forensics director for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who said she was speaking about the process generally.

"And once you're discharged, there's no court order hanging over your head. ... When a doctor writes you a prescription, you can walk out and throw it all in the garbage," Steinberg said.

According to prosecutor Cynthia Banks, after killing Horne, Ferguson immediately ran inside his own home and fell asleep. Police interpreted his lack of response as a barricade, and after forcing entry into the home, they discovered a house in disarray.

Ferguson had ripped off kitchen countertops and torn down walls. He had essentially tunneled into the ceiling and begun living there, Dixon said.

"The mental health system doesn't have the resources to deal with these kinds of things," the lawyer said.

It was more than a year before Ferguson was ruled competent to stand trial.

Ferguson's family did not attend the final court proceeding in June out of respect for Horne's wife and son, who ran out of their home at the sound of gunfire and watched Ferguson stand over him and fire the fatal shots. Ferguson turned his gun on them, firing and scaring them inside, Banks, the prosecutor, said in court.

Horne's family was "extremely angry" that Ferguson was being sent to a psychiatric hospital instead of prison, Banks told the judge.

"They don't understand" mental illness, Banks told Welch. "In their mind, he's not mentally ill. He's just crazy."

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