New plea entered in slaying JHU student says he was 'not criminally responsible'; Insanity defense possible; Writings on night of shooting describe tortured feelings


A Johns Hopkins University student accused of killing his once-close friend on the school's campus last April has changed his plea to not criminally responsible, making possible an insanity defense.

New court documents filed in the case include a seven-page note that Robert J. Harwood Jr. apparently wrote April 10 -- hours before he is accused of shooting fellow student Rex T. Chao to death outside the campus library.

Harwood's attorney, Michael E. Kaminkow, was on vacation yesterday and could not be reached for comment. He did not elaborate in court filings on the amended plea, which still claims that Harwood is not guilty.

Harwood's trial on a charge of first-degree murder is scheduled for Oct. 2.

The "not criminally responsible" plea, filed Aug. 15, means that Harwood will be evaluated by defense and state psychiatrists to determine his mental state at the time of the shooting.

Harwood's writings on the night of the killing, in the form of a journal entry, describe tortured feelings over what to do about an alleged sexual encounter he had with Chao around New Year's Day.

"This was a violation of me, my rights, and my dignity," he wrote. "But I was embarrassed and kind of humiliated and afraid, and I didn't want to destroy a good friendship over some act [in] which he overstepped his bounds."

Harwood debates in the journal "two choices" -- to press formal charges against Chao at a meeting scheduled with Hopkins Dean of Students Susan K. Boswell the next day or not to pursue the matter.

He does not mention a gun or the possibility of using one.

That meeting had been scheduled after Chao and his girlfriend, Suzanne Hubbard, complained that Harwood was obsessively calling Chao and sending him electronic mail.

Some of that electronic mail indicates it was Harwood who continued to pursue a friendship with Chao, while Chao backed away and tried to limit contact. Judging from their e-mail, Chao decided that he wanted to make their friendship "less intense" after returning from a January trip to Australia. But Harwood continued to contact Chao, writing in February: "Realize I'll always be the true friend you've so longed for."

Yesterday, Baltimore lawyer Ty Cobb, who represents Chao's parents, called Harwood's journal "invention" and said the Chaos "are secure in the knowledge that Rex neither assaulted (sexually or otherwise) or provoked his cold-blooded assassin."

On April 10, Harwood went to a meeting of the Hopkins College Republicans, where Chao was running for chairman. At the meeting, Harwood passed out a flier accusing Chao of a number of sensational "character" allegations, including that he had "sexually assaulted another male, revealing his true sexuality."

Students at the meeting appeared to dismiss the flier and voted overwhelmingly for Chao as chairman. Afterward, Harwood approached Chao and, after a brief conversation, shot him as Hubbard watched, police said.

Before that meeting, Harwood -- former chairman of the political group -- wrote in the seven-page note that Chao was imitating him.

"With the pending election, I believe he still wants to be me, thus emulate my role as [College Republicans] Chair," Harwood wrote. "This is wrong; he is not me and I don't want him to be me any longer. The loafers, the jacket, his clothing style and dressing like me, talking with my phraseology and verbiage, writing style, likes/dislikes, etc. cannot make him me."

Harwood wonders in the journal whether Chao could or would bring charges against him as well. He concludes without deciding.

"I guess I'm still at a crossroads," Harwood wrote. "Perhaps this evening's activities will allow me to decide more decisively."

Pub Date: 8/22/96

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