A 28-year-old Baltimore man was committed to a mental institution yesterday after admitting he used a saw to decapitate the matriarch of a local Gypsy family last fall because he thought her to be "a demon."
Douglas Thomas Clark's voice was barely audible as he pleaded guilty but not criminally responsible to first-degree murder in the slaying of Deborah Stevens, an East Baltimore fortune-teller known as Sister Myra, and to carrying a deadly weapon with the intent of harming her.
Baltimore City Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy Jr. accepted the pleas and committed Clark indefinitely to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which will determine if he can ever be released.
"That could be never," the judge told Clark, who nodded that he understood.
Ms. Stevens, who was 62, was the daughter-in-law of King Dick Stevens, a national Gypsy leader who lived in Baltimore until his death in 1959.
One of Ms. Stevens' sons found her body Nov. 16 in her house in the 4000 block of Pulaski Highway. Her head was found about 10 feet away.
Clark was arrested about two hours after the body was found when he apparently tried to commit suicide by throwing himself under a moving Amtrak train.
Police said he was injured when he twice jumped in front of an Amtrak police car that was chasing him, and that he confessed to the crime while being treated for those injuries.
Assistant State's Attorney Timothy J. Doory told the judge that ,, Clark told emergency medical technicians and doctors that he had consulted Ms. Stevens "because some Jamaicans had put a hex, which he referred to as 'roots,' on him, that he had no spine and that he could not die." Mr. Doory said Clark said he believed Ms. Stevens to be "a demon, that he had to kill her because she was the devil."
The murder weapon, a bloodstained culinary saw, was found the day after the killing in a trash bin across the street from Ms. Stevens' home, Mr. Doory said. A fingerprint on a storm door in her home matched the defendant's left ring finger, he said.
Archie Stevens, a son of the dead woman, spoke with his mother by telephone the night before she died. She told him she was concerned about a client, and Mr. Stevens could hear her talking with the customer on another line, Mr. Doory said. "Mr. Stevens could hear her trying to talk a person out of his suicidal leanings," the prosecutor said. "She urged him to read his Bible."
Yesterday's pleas came after a psychiatric evaluation at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center for the criminally insane, where Clark has been held since shortly after the murder, found that he suffered from schizophrenia. Doctors concluded that Clark was competent to understand the charges against him.
Judge Gordy spent considerable time yesterday asking Clark if he knew what he was agreeing to.
Clark acknowledged that he had been given several different types of medication yesterday morning at the hospital.
Once he misstated his age to the court, and he consulted with his lawyer, Elizabeth L. Julian, chief of the public defender's felony trial division, on several points. He said he had been under the care of a psychologist at age 14 for "runaway problems."
But he told the judge he knew where he was -- in a "Baltimore courtroom" -- and that his mind was clear. He said he did not challenge Mr. Doory's version of the murder and its aftermath.
Relatives of Ms. Stevens who watched the court proceedings had mixed emotions.
They said they were gratified that others would be safe from Clark during his commitment. On the other hand, they knew that if Clark had been found guilty at trial and sane, he could have faced a life in prison without parole.
"She was trying to save his life, only for him to kill her," Archie Stevens said. "We'd like to see maximum punishment."