The capital murder trial of Smith Harper Dean III, accused of killing his former girlfriend and her date, was postponed yesterday after the Hampstead pit-beef entrepreneur tried to commit suicide days before the anniversary of the killings. The trial had been scheduled to start Monday.
In a letter written to a reporter at The Sun two hours before the suicide attempt was discovered, Dean said, "I'm so sorry -- the only way is out," with "out" underlined.
Dean apparently hoarded anti-depression medicine and ingested a potentially lethal dose in his county Detention Center cell, authorities said.
He was in critical condition at Carroll County General Hospital in Westminster yesterday, a hospital spokeswoman said. But authorities indicated that he was improving and beginning to emerge from a medication-induced coma.
After meeting with prosecutors and Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. yesterday, Dean's attorney, M. Gordon Tayback, said the start of the trial would be postponed for at least a day. He said a decision about whether to go ahead would be made Monday.
The trial had been shifted to Howard County at Dean's request because of pretrial publicity in Carroll County, but it might be difficult to reschedule there, officials said. Beck was to preside at the trial.
Dean's two-page letter to the reporter, dated 9 p.m. Wednesday, did not say whether he had taken the pills.
Correctional officers reported finding him unconscious in an isolation cell at 11: 20 p.m., about five minutes after they had checked on him. He had been removed from the jail's general population earlier Wednesday after a minor pushing or slapping incident.
A Bible open to the Book of Psalms lay next to him on the floor, Sheriff John Brown said. He would not provide further details.
Brown said he had no indication from doctors that Dean needed to be watched more closely as the trial date and the anniversary of the killings approached.
State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes declined to comment, saying only, "It's very discouraging that we can't get a homicide defendant into the courtroom."
That comment also alluded to the suicide of John T. Titus, 33, who hanged himself in the county jail Sept. 22. Titus had been accused of raping and murdering Patricia A. Titus, 40, his estranged wife, at her Hampstead home.
Brown defended his correctional staff yesterday, saying he was "very well pleased" that everyone acted professionally.
"It was lucky that they found him so quickly -- within five minutes after a regular check every 15 minutes," Brown said.
"I had my staff conduct an immediate investigation, but also asked the state police to come in and do an independent investigation," he said.
Brown said Dean was in an isolation area because he had been in a fight with another inmate about 8 a.m. Wednesday.
"Regulations call for searching every inmate before they are placed in isolation, and that was done," Brown said. "No body cavity search would have been done by guards, because a doctor has to do that."
Brown said the jail's investigation indicated that Dean had been given three prescription drugs that medical references say are used for anxiety and depression.
"He must have saved them up, or something," Brown said. "I don't know how he got them in" the isolation unit.
The state is seeking the death penalty against Dean on two counts of murder in the slayings on June 14 last year of Sharon Lee Mechalske, 38, of Hampstead and 30-year-old Kent Leonard Cullison, an Arcadia mail carrier who was on his second date with her.
A brother and sister-in-law of Mechalske said at the time that Mechalske had broken off a relationship with Dean because he was possessive and jealous and that Dean had stalked her in the days before the killings at her home on Wolf Hill Drive.
Cullison's older brother, Kevin E. Cullison, 35, of Baltimore County, said the prosecutor's office told of the suicide attempt.
"We were just kind of wondering how something like that happened, how it's possible," he said.
"It would save us a lot of of taxpayers' money" if he had died, Cullison said. "I say an eye for an eye; live by the sword, die by the sword."
Tayback said it was uncertain where his client would be held after he is released from the hospital.
"I can almost certainly assure that he won't be back in the Carroll County Detention Center," Tayback said.
He said the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup was a possibility. In December Dean was sent to Perkins, where he was evaluated and found competent to stand trial.
During a rambling, two-hour jail-house interview with a reporter June 4, Dean spoke of Titus' suicide and said he supported capital punishment, as long as it was carried out quickly.
His letter to the reporter said, in part, "I would like to say how remorseful I am. I can't [bear] the pain and agony of my losses anymore. Sharon represented good to me. I only wanted good in my life. Now that she is gone, I am gone.
"I died inside when she died."
Later in the letter, Dean wrote: "I don't remember what happened and don't want to. Kent Cullison was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had no idea what was really going on. Sharon deceived him as she did me. It's very sad. She told me that she loved me and was sorry."
Pub Date: 6/13/98