Baltimore County judge orders defendant to wear 'stun cuff' during trial

Murder suspect misses part of trial after he refused to wear shock device

  • Jeffrey Michael Shiflett is on trial, charged in the death of his ex-girlfriend Katie Hadel.
Jeffrey Michael Shiflett is on trial, charged in the death of… (Baltimore City Police Department…)
September 16, 2014|By Jessica Anderson | The Baltimore Sun

A man accused of fatally stabbing his ex-girlfriend in 2013 was unable to attend his own trial in Baltimore County Tuesday after he refused to wear a stun cuff.

Jeffrey Matthew Shiflett, 35, charged with murdering Katie Hadel, 33, missed opening statements after Circuit Judge Ruth Ann Jakubowski ordered that he wear an ankle bracelet that can deliver an electric shock.

Jakubowski made the order after Shiflett screamed the judge's first name repeatedly and attempted to enter her chambers as he was being escorted to the courtroom before the trial. Sheriff's deputies had to restrain him. When he refused to wear the stun cuff, deputies returned him to his lock-up.

Later, Shiflett's attorney, James A. Sorensen argued unsuccessfully for a competency evaluation and said his client should be offered another chance to calm himself down. But Jakubowski said Shiflett had already been given the opportunity and, based on recent behavior, could not be taken at his word.

"His level of violence and disruptive behavior has escalated," Jakubowski said, as she ordered the device. She said the device was the only solution for courtroom safety, short of having half a dozen deputies stand round him. She said she also felt that the ankle bracelet, which is worn underneath clothing, would be less noticeable to jurors.

The judge, prosecutor, and defense attorneys also referred to Shiflett's behavior during Monday's jury selection, when he spoke out multiple times. Jakubowski described his "constant remarks" as sometimes "obscene" and "inappropriate" but found him to be compliant. However, she said she found Tuesday's outburst outside her chambers to be threatening.

Sorensen raised concerns about when the device would be used, saying that his client could be shocked simply for being disruptive.

"It would only be utilized if he becomes violent or starts acting out," not because he's talking, Jakubowski said. She noted a previous incident in another case when a defendant attacked his defense attorney in her courtroom.

Recently, the Court of Appeals banned a retired Charles County judge from hearing cases after an incident where he ordered a defendant be given an electric shock, though the court did not cite the shock incident as the cause.

Baltimore County Sheriff R. Jay Fisher said his office started using stun cuffs in 2011 but has never had to shock defendants.

The electronic control devices are used infrequently, he said. "They are used to control violent or potentially violent prisoners."

When Sorensen asked that his client undergo a competency evaluation, Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger, who is prosecuting the case, argued against it, saying Shiflett's comments might have been disruptive but were lucid and related to the hearing.

"Agitated does not make you incompetent" to stand trial, Shellenberger said. He added that Shiflett had topical conversations, even mentioning the Charles County judge.

The trial then began without him. During opening statements, Shellenberger described how Hadel and Shiflett had once dated, but she had begun a new life without him, with a husband, stepdaughter, and 2-year-old daughter. Hadel was three months pregnant, police have said.

The night she died, her husband, a truck driver, was away working when Shiflett went into her apartment in the Garrison area carrying a long knife, and stabbed Hadel 16 times in front of her 2-year-old daughter, Shellenberger said.

"He thought he had a score to settle with Katie," Shellenberger said.

Sorensen argued that the murder wasn't premeditated. Shiflett snapped in the apartment after Hadel wouldn't speak to him, he said.

Sorensen said Shiflett blamed her for testifying against him in a robbery case in which he was sent to prison, and had continued to reach out to her to find out why she had hurt him.

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