A federal judge convicted a Maryland man yesterday of assaulting a flight attendant during an "air rage" incident aboard a Baltimore-bound plane, where the man touched off pandemonium when he went berserk after proclaiming himself to be Jesus.
Judge Catherine C. Blake also rejected a defense plea that Dean William Trammel, 22, be found not criminally responsible.
Trammel's lawyers argued that he suffers from a severe bipolar disorder that caused him to have a mental breakdown.
"There was some kind of psychotic behavior going on," Blake said in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. "But I do not believe it's been shown that this was a severe mental disease or defect."
Trammel, a Silver Spring resident and one-time football player at Santa Monica College in California, slumped over and buried his head in his hands when the verdict was read.
Minutes later he hugged his father and grandfather, both ministers.
The felony charge of which he was convicted -- interfering with a flight attendant -- carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Airline officials say that stiff penalties are needed to deter incidents of "air rage," the term used to describe a growing problem of attacks on planes worldwide.
Sentencing is scheduled for April 9.
Trammel's behavior and the bizarre events that followed occurred in the final leg of US Airways Flight 38 on Dec. 16, 1997, as he returned home from college.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph L. Evans described the scene on the plane as "a horrible, horrible brawl" in which crew members finally had to bind Trammel's hands with a US Airways necktie.
Those on board testified throughout the five-day trial that Trammel had been polite and calm for the first several hours of the flight, which originated in Los Angeles. But as the plane approached Baltimore, the burly college student left his seat and began blessing nearby passengers.
He told a flight attendant that he was Jesus and, when she asked him to take his seat and prepare for landing, he replied that God had ordered him to remain standing for the rest of the trip.
At one point he tried to get into the cockpit, saying he needed to bless the pilots because the plane was about to crash, the flight attendant testified.
Passengers became unnerved by Trammel's behavior and some began yelling at him. At one point a flight attendant ordered him to sit down and put his seat belt on or she would sit on him and put it on for him, according to testimony.
Moments later, Trammel was "flailing around with great strength" as crew members tried to subdue him, Evans said. One of the flight attendants, Renee Sheffer, said Trammel threw her across three rows of seats and punched her in the face.
After several minutes of intense panic on board, in which passengers were screaming and children were crying, Trammel was restrained and the plane landed.
Barry J. Pollack and James Wyda, the assistant U.S. public defenders representing Trammel, argued that a severe bipolar disorder caused Trammel to break with himself and reality.
"He was Jesus Christ at that point," Wyda said, adding: "He could not appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct."
But the judge, while acknowledging that Trammell "needs help," did not agree that his troubled behavior on the plane was the result of a severe psychological condition.
"He did not appear to be in the grips of a severe mental illness," Blake said.
She cited his ability to control himself within moments of being restrained and to write a fairly accurate account of the incident about 40 minutes after landing in Baltimore.
In that voluntary statement, written at the request of Maryland Transportation Authority police, Trammel said he "had a couple of drinks that made me a little crazy, I believe, but not crazy enough to be put on the floor in the manner that I was handled."
He also wrote, "I had some drinks early in the day. Also, I couldn't get myself to go to sleep so I continued to pace up and down the alley [of the plane]. I received lots of looks and then I was upset that people were looking at me and then I began to become hostile."
Whether Trammel had alcohol on the day of the flight is unclear. A crew member testified that she served Trammel six Sprite sodas during the flight but no alcohol.
Trammel had also told a pretrial services officer that he had taken LSD before the flight, but that statement was not brought up in the trial.
Pub Date: 1/13/99