Dee Farmer has cycled through the criminal justice system for years, dressing as a woman and wearing makeup in all-male federal prisons, and landing at the center of a sweeping U.S. Supreme Court case.
Released last year from prison in failing health to die at home, Farmer said yesterday: "I've been surviving. ... Things are so-so."
And then the police came to the door.
Dee Deirdre Farmer, a transgendered convicted thief who also goes by the names Douglas C. Farmer and Larry G. Prescott, said she knew nothing of charges filed Wednesday in Baltimore City, where investigators have accused her of trying to falsify a man's death certificate to avoid being prosecuted on federal charges filed this year.
She stared blankly at the state troopers who announced that they had a warrant for her arrest and led the 41-year-old from her mother's Northeast Baltimore rowhouse in handcuffs to an unmarked police car.
Born male, Farmer underwent a sex-change operation to become female and legally changed her Maryland birth certificate a few years ago to reflect that she was a woman named Dee Deirdre Farmer, according to court documents.
Farmer appeared in Baltimore County Circuit Court in the 1980s in dresses and sued federal prison officials after being placed, while undergoing estrogen therapy and wearing women's clothes, in the general population of an all-male prison, where she was attacked and raped. The case went to the Supreme Court and changed the standard of liability for prisons where inmates assault each other, although Farmer lost her lawsuit.
But charges filed in December in Baltimore County and this week's charges filed by the attorney general's office in the city stem from incidents in which Farmer allegedly depicted and identified herself as a man.
Neighbors on Elmley Avenue said they have only known Farmer to wear masculine clothing. One neighbor said he has often seen Farmer cutting the grass. And another neighbor, asked whether she knew Farmer, responded, "We don't know nothing about that lady, that man, across the street."
During yesterday's brief interview just inside the door of her mother's home, Farmer wore blue sneakers, long Sean John jean shorts and a gray T-shirt by the same designer. She said she has been doing what the judge sent her home to do: resting, taking medication that wasn't available in prison and participating in a clinical trial for AIDS patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Kevin Enright, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said that authorities obtained an arrest warrant for Farmer on Wednesday night and took the defendant into custody shortly after noon yesterday.
The case was referred to the attorney general's office in June after a person, posing as Douglas Farmer, presented the state division of vital records with a forged Baltimore Circuit Court order to change the death certificate of a man named Charles Smith, who died June 6, 2006, to reflect that Dee Farmer had died on that day instead, according to court records.
The signature on the order: Baltimore Circuit Judge William Brisco.
"Of course, there is no such judge and the order was a forgery," a Maryland State Police trooper wrote in an affidavit to obtain an arrest warrant. The trooper wrote that it was "very likely" that Farmer intended to use the altered death certificate to persuade federal prosecutors in Maryland that she had died, hoping they would dismiss the indictment filed in January that charged her with multiple counts of mail fraud and identity theft.
The trooper's affidavit notes that Farmer succeeded in getting unrelated criminal charges in Virginia dismissed on the basis of her supposed death last year by using a forged death certificate.
The alleged forgery is the latest in a series of crimes with which Farmer has been charged since being released in February last year by a judge who was sympathetic to the inmate's failing health and poor prognosis.
At that hearing, in Baltimore County Circuit Court in Towson, Farmer was gaunt, nearly blind, trembling and weak, according to the lawyers and judge involved in the sentence modification hearing that stemmed from a 1986 theft case.
Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr., now chief judge of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, had heard the case against Farmer as a member of the Baltimore County bench and sentenced the defendant to 30 years in prison consecutive to a 20-year prison term imposed by a federal judge.
Murphy agreed to release Farmer last year on probation after hearing testimony that the inmate was dying of AIDS and had little time left to live.
"No question, when I last saw him, that physically he had deteriorated very, very badly," Murphy said in an interview this week, sometimes referring to Farmer as "he." "He was extremely thin and had the look of a person who was very ill - emaciated, which was not the case when I sentenced Dee in the first place."
Farmer said yesterday that her health and vision are still "poor," but that she has gained some weight. Asked how much, the tall and no longer thin individual said she did not know.
Farmer answered questions slowly and with hesitation, and seemed to have trouble catching her breath. She said she lives with her mother, who is in her 60s, and has been receiving disability checks.
When the police arrived, Farmer asked only that she be allowed to lock the front door before being taken away.
An official with the District Court commissioners' office at the Central Booking and Intake Center in Baltimore said Farmer was booked about 3 p.m. and would not be seen by a commissioner for a bail hearing until today.