Neck­lace thief held in men­tal hos­pi­tal since 1971

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JIM MCELHATTON

Franklin H. Frye was charged with steal­ing a $20 neck­lace in 1970, and he has spent the bet­ter part of his life locked up ever since af­ter be­ing found not guilty by rea­son of in­san­ity.

Mr. Frye was sent to St. El­iz­a­beths Hos­pi­tal in Wash­ing­ton in 1971, part of which houses the crim­i­nally in­sane — in­clud­ing would-be pres­i­den­tial as­sas­sin John Hinck­ley Jr.

In a chain of events that sug­gests a se­ri­ous ju­di­cial break­down, fed­eral court records in Wash­ing­ton re­viewed by The Wash­ing­ton Times show a pub­lic de­fender filed a mo­tion for Mr. Frye’s un­con­di­tional re­lease nearly six years ago, cit­ing his re­cov­ery. But Mr. Frye never got his day in court. The judge han­dling the case had died in 2007 when Mr. Frye’s mo­tion for re­lease was filed. His case was not trans­ferred to a liv­ing judge un­til re­cent weeks.

David Ru­dovsky, a civil rights lawyer and se­nior fel­low at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia Law School, said the case sug­gests a “break­down in jus­tice in the court sys­tem.”

Al­though it’s un­clear who is to blame, the larger ques­tion — raised anew in a mo­tion by the D.C. Pub­lic De­fender Ser­vice — is why Mr. Frye’s case has lan­guished.

“Mr. Frye has been wait­ing over five years to have this mo­tion heard by the court,” Sil­vana Naguib, a lawyer now rep­re­sent­ing him, wrote in a Jan. 8 le­gal fil­ing.

Court of­fi­cials did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment, and the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice, which did not file a re­sponse to the 2008 mo­tion for Mr. Frye’s re­lease, de­clined to com­ment.

“Mr. Frye was ac­cused of steal­ing a neck­lace that was val­ued at ap­prox­i­mately twenty dol­lars,” Ms. Naguib wrote in the mo­tion. “He has been at St. El­iz­a­beths Hos­pi­tal al­most con­tin­u­ously since.”

Re­fer­ring to the 2008 mo­tion for his re­lease, which was filed by a dif­fer­ent at­tor­ney, she added, “Over five years later, no re­sponse has been filed by any party and no ac­tion has been taken by the court.”

Mr. Frye has spent some time out of the hos­pi­tal. He at­tended an out­pa­tient pro­gram at Wash­ing­ton Hos­pi­tal Center un­til De­cem­ber, which ended be­cause of fund­ing prob­lems, ac­cord­ing to the mo­tion.

Over four decades, he has sought re­lease a num­ber of times. Two years af­ter he was com­mit­ted, the hos­pi­tal di­rec­tor rec­om­mended that Mr. Frye be “un­con­di­tion­ally re­leased,” but in­stead he re­ceived a con­di­tional re­lease to look for a job, court records show.

“In the early years of Mr. Frye’s hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, Mr. Frye would some­times get in fights with other pa­tients, of­ten over money, food, cloth­ing and the other hotly de­sired com­modi­ties of in­sti­tu­tional life,” Ms. Naguib wrote.

“How­ever, in the last decade, as Mr. Frye has aged, th­ese con­flicts have all but van­ished. Now, nearly 70, Mr. Frye dis­plays no dan­ger­ous be­hav­ior of any kind.”

The lat­est mo­tion reads much like the one filed on his be­half years ago: “Mr. Frye has re­cov­ered his san­ity and no longer suf­fers from a men­tal ill­ness as de­fined by law,” said the mo­tion filed in 2008.

Un­der the law, pa­tients can re­quest re­lease through the court, but of­fi­cials from the city-run hos­pi­tal also can ini­ti­ate the process.

Phyl­lis Jones, chief of staff for the D.C. Depart­ment of Men­tal Health, which over­sees the hos­pi­tal, de­clined to com­ment on any spe­cific ques­tions about Mr. Frye’s case, cit­ing pa­tient pri­vacy.

“When a court hear­ing is set on this mo­tion, St. El­iz­a­beths will re­spond to the court,” Ms. Jones said.

In gen­eral, how­ever, she said the hos­pi­tal re­views each in­di­vid­ual found guilty by rea­son of in­san­ity at least once a year “with the goal of as­sess­ing readi­ness for rein­te­gra­tion into the com­mu­nity.”

“If the hos­pi­tal be­lieves an in­di­vid­ual can be granted a con­di­tional or un­con­di­tional re­lease, we will ini­ti­ate a re­quest with the court,” she said. “The Foren­sic Re­view Board must as­sess whether an in­di­vid­ual poses a dan­ger to him­self or oth­ers if re­leased.”

Even if hos­pi­tal of­fi­cials haven’t moved for Mr. Frye’s re­lease, ju­di­cial of­fi­cials haven’t moved un­til now to act on his mo­tion to leave — with lit­tle ex­pla­na­tion.

It was only one day af­ter Ms. Naguib filed for Mr. Frye’s re­lease that of­fi­cials trans­ferred the case to Chief Judge Richard W. Roberts, who took over the top judge’s spot last year.

“Judge John Gar­rett Penn is de­ceased,” a docket en­try noted, “and no longer as­signed to the case.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.