By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun
10:26 PM EDT, June 14, 2012
A prisoner facing a death-penalty trial in the 2006 killing of a correctional officer inside the antiquated Maryland House of Correction was found mentally unfit to stand trial Thursday.
Lamarr Cornelius "Junebug" Harris, 41, who is already serving more than three life terms for Baltimore murder convictions, looked blankly ahead after Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul A. Hackner handed down his ruling.
Harris was one of two prisoners accused of fatally ambushing Cpl. David McGuinn on the catwalk of a prison tier tier in July 2006 — part of the violence that led state officials to close the prison. The other prisoner, serving one life term plus additional years, was convicted, but the jury rejected the death penalty and sentenced him to another life term.
Hackner found that Harris understood the nature of the proceedings against him, but did not meet the second requirement.
The judge said he was unconvinced that Harris "is able to have a reasonable degree of rational understanding such that he can assist his counsel in this case."
Defense lawyers began raising the possibility in 2007 that Harris was too mentally disturbed to stand trial. Prosecutors maintained that he was fit for trial.
Psychiatrists hired by the defense testified that Harris said he was the messiah, and therefore god, and wanted to be executed. However, he specified, only by electrocution because lethal injection — the method in current law — would harm his celestial nature. But he also spoke about a defense, they said.
Defense lawyers declined to comment.
"We are hoping that he is deemed competent in the near future so we can take this case to trial," said Kristin Fleckenstein, spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County State's Attorney's Office, whose psychologist testified that Harris had made some "bizarre" statements but was competent for trial.
The ruling leaves his treatment up to state mental health officials. Generally, criminal defendants found mentally incompetent are sent to the Clifton T. Perkins psychiatric hospital, which has a maximum security wing.
Harris must have an annual review in court. If he is not found competent within 10 years, the case against Harris would be dismissed unless a judge finds "extraordinary cause." However, he has the remainder of his prison terms to serve.
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