By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun
8:02 PM EST, March 2, 2012
A mistrial was declared Friday in the murder trial of a man charged with strangling a fellow patient at a state psychiatric hospital, a spokesman for Howard County prosecutors said.
Jurors had deliberated for about 11 hours over two days before telling Circuit Judge Timothy J. McCrone that they were deadlocked.
El Soundani El-Wahhabi, 51, also known as Saladin Taylor, is accused in the Sept. 26, 2010, death of Susan Sachs, 45, who was found strangled in her bed in the state's Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center.
Prosecutors had called El-Wahhabi a "cold, calculating killer" who sneaked into his friend's room. His defense described the death as the result of a botched suicide pact between El-Wahhabi and his unhappy best friend.
Both patients had been ordered by courts to Perkins after being found not criminally responsible in unrelated murder cases. Many Perkins patients have a history of violence. Three homicides, beginning with Sachs' death, occurred there within 14 months, which led to changes in the operation of the facility.
Prosecutors offered no motive for the killing of Sachs and told jurors in closing arguments that El-Wahhabi was the only person who claimed that Sachs wanted to die. Besides, said prosecutor Kim Oldham, even if there was a murder-suicide pact, "There is no such thing as consensual murder. That's ridiculous."
El-Wahhabi, whose past includes charges of violence against women, had been moved to a coed medium-security ward near Sachs' room shortly before she was killed.
Prosecutors maintained that El-Wahhabi slipped into Sachs' room at 10:49 p.m, while she was sleeping and pulled a cord around her neck. He then went into a bathroom, they said, and contemplated his next move before returning to his room at 11:13 p.m.
But defense attorney Debra A. Saltz told jurors that not only was her client a sick man, but that Sachs was a "tortured" woman who was hardly "full of life," as prosecutors contended. Saltz said Sachs asked El-Wahhabi to kill her before he killed himself.
Saltz and El-Wahhabi contended that he went into the bathroom to hang himself, but that when it became too painful, he changed his mind.
Howard County prosecutors intend to retry the case. A July 23 retrial was scheduled, said spokesman T. Wayne Kirwan.
Both sides were under a gag order prohibiting them from speaking about the case.
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