Hampstead man's double-murder trial postponed again Dean attempted suicide last week


The double-murder trial of Smith Harper Dean III, a Hampstead pit-beef entrepreneur who attempted suicide last week, was postponed again yesterday, and officials will decide in two weeks when, or if, the trial can be rescheduled.

Dean, 39, remained under guard at Carroll County General Hospital yesterday with heart-related problems attributed to an overdose of anti-depressant medication he apparently hoarded, authorities said.

Dean was found semiconscious in an isolation cell at the county Detention Center at 11: 20 p.m. Wednesday, jail officials said, and was taken to the Westminster hospital, where he was in critical condition for about two days.

Dean's jury trial on charges of killing Sharon L. Mechalske, his 38-year-old former Hampstead girlfriend; and her date, Arcadia letter carrier Kent L. Cullison, 30, on June 14 last year was scheduled to begin yesterday in Howard County, where it was moved to minimize exposure to pretrial publicity.

Court proceedings were postponed Friday until Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr., who will preside at the trial, could meet with prosecutors and Dean's lawyers yesterday.

During a one-hour hearing in Beck's chambers, Dean's lawyers requested that the trial be delayed until Dean's physical and emotional condition could be evaluated and two to three weeks could be cleared with Howard County Circuit Court.

Raymond J. Kane Jr., administrative judge for the 5th Judicial Circuit, which includes Carroll, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, formally postponed the trial after hearing that Dean's physical condition was unlikely to improve for at least two weeks.

Richard S. Bernhardt, assistant public defender from Howard County, said hospital and jail doctors, along with Dr. Neil H. Blumberg, Dean's psychiatrist, agreed that Dean should be involuntary committed to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup upon his release from the hospital.

Bernhardt, co-counsel with M. Gordon Tayback of Baltimore, said Dean suffers from an elevated heart rate, which is consistent with someone who has taken more of an anti-depressant than has been prescribed.

Blumberg questioned whether any defendant who wants to commit suicide could be considered competent for trial. Bernhardt said his client spent three months at Perkins last winter for conduct "far less severe" than last week's.

Prosecutors Jerry F. Barnes, state's attorney for Carroll County, and Tracy A. Gilmore, his deputy, said the state is prepared to go to trial but deferred to the court's decision.

Kane ordered prosecutors and defense lawyers to meet in Ellicott City on June 29, and to be prepared to set a date for the trial to begin -- perhaps in September -- or provide doctors' opinions on Dean's competency.

A state police investigator continues to look at how Dean apparently hoarded his medication and evaded detection by correctional officers.

Sheriff John Brown said Dean was searched for contraband before being placed in isolation Wednesday morning after a minor fight with an inmate.

An investigation by jail staff members failed to determine how Dean managed to save his pills and get them into the isolation unit.

Pub Date: 6/16/98

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