Murder suspect ruled 'competent'

The Baltimore Sun

A Pasadena man accused of shooting his mother to death is no longer refusing to take his psychiatric medicines and is now competent to stand trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys said in an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court hearing yesterday.

The attorneys' determination follows a February report from doctors at the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup that found that Zachary Thomas Neiman, 27, can assist in his defense.

Neiman faces first-degree murder charges in the July 2006 slaying of his mother, Rae Bajus. The agreement that he's competent now revives a trial process that had been mired with postponements since last August. His trial is set for Aug. 4.

"I know this case has been dormant for a long time. I just want to make sure that we're all on the same page," said Circuit Judge Paul A. Hackner, who ruled last summer that Neiman was not competent to stand trial because he had stopped taking medications for paranoid schizophrenia.

Neiman had always argued that he was competent to stand trial, but had temporarily stopped taking his prescriptions because he said he didn't like the way they made him feel.

Neiman didn't speak during the proceeding. Before the hearing, he quietly asked his attorney Karl H. Gordon what to expect.

"The doctors think you're competent," Gordon told his client. "You think you're competent, right?"

"Yes," said the handcuffed defendant, who has a slight build and clean-shaven face.

His case illustrates the muddy nature of prosecuting cases involving conflicting reports of mental competence. Under Maryland law, a person cannot be forced to take psychiatric medication unless a judge determines that they pose a danger to themselves or others, effectively allowing the person to sacrifice his sanity to avoid the possibility of being sent to prison.

Now both sides are waiting for psychiatrists' evaluation of whether Neiman was criminally responsible when he killed his mother with two shotgun blasts as she sat on a living room sofa in July 2006. The evaluation is likely to take 60 days. Neiman has pleaded not criminally responsible, and his attorneys plan to show he has a history of mental illness.

Assistant State's Attorney Pamela Alban said yesterday if the evaluations done by physicians representing the state and defense are in agreement, the case could result in a plea agreement. Alban said "not criminally responsible" cases typically do not go to trial.

"It's extremely rare for the doctors to disagree ... but once in a while, you get a contested one that you have to take to trial," said Alban, adding she doesn't believe a trial would take more than two to three days. "This is not a very complicated case, evidence-wise."

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