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Dr. Jonas R. Rappeport, retired forensic psychiatrist who worked on cases of attempted presidential assassinations, dies

Dr. Jonas R. Rappeport in 1969 became the first president of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.
Dr. Jonas R. Rappeport in 1969 became the first president of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

Dr. Jonas R. Rappeport, the retired chief medical officer of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City who also was a consultant in the George Wallace, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan attempted assassination cases, died Tuesday at the Broadmead Retirement Community in Cockeysville. He was 95 and lived in Park Heights and Bolton Hill.

A daughter, Sandy Rappeport, said a medical cause of death was not available.

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A nationally known and esteemed forensic psychiatrist, he founded the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, and was its first president. He trained numerous future forensic psychiatrists as a faculty member of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

At the time of his 1992 retirement, he had evaluated scores of criminal defendants and testified in many cases in Maryland and across the nation. He was credited with lifting forensic psychiatry from the stature of a judicial sideshow to that of accepted medical specialty.

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Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Abraham Rappeport, a real estate developer, and his wife, Edna. He was a 1942 graduate of Forest Park High School and entered the University of Maryland, College Park that fall. He was drafted in June 1943 and served in the Army in Europe. He was a 1952 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He interned at Chicago’s Michael Reese Hospital, where he met his future wife, Joan Gruenwald, the chief psychiatric nurse.

Dr. Jonas R. Rappeport is pictured in 1959, the year he opened a general private practice in clinical psychiatry in Mount Vernon.
Dr. Jonas R. Rappeport is pictured in 1959, the year he opened a general private practice in clinical psychiatry in Mount Vernon. (Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

According to a biographical profile In the Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Dr. Rappeport grew up with medical mentors. As a 15-year-old, he babysat for Manfred Guttmacher, a noted forensic psychiatrist and chief medical officer at the Court Clinic for Baltimore City’s Supreme Bench.1

“He recalled leafing through Dr. Guttmacher’s medical library while babysitting, including a copy of Krafft‐Ebings' ‘Psychopathia Sexualis,’” said Dr. Jeffrey K. Janofsky, co-author of the biography.

Dr. Rappeport became interested in forensic psychiatry when he conducted research on inpatient psychiatric patient violence, after a patient assaulted a staff member.

He did a residency in psychiatry at the University of Maryland Medical School and the Sheppard Pratt Hospital, and was asked to testify at civil commitment hearings and worked with psychoanalyst Dr. Samuel Novey, evaluating juveniles for the Baltimore County Circuit Court.

“My father was a force to be reckoned with. He had a strong mind and he was serious about everything he embraced,” Ms. Rappeport, of Baltimore. “He was curious about people and was interested in why people did what they did. He was also a man who treated people with great dignity.”

Dr. Rappeport joined the staff at Maryland’s Spring Grove State Hospital, which houses the state’s forensic psychiatry unit.

“He recalled that the forensic unit was a primitive place by today’s standards, with literally a hole in the floor in which violent patients were housed,” Dr. Janofsky said.

In 1959, Dr. Rappeport also opened a general private practice in clinical psychiatry in the Latrobe building in Mount Vernon.

He also became the psychiatrist for the Baltimore County Circuit Court, then a part-time position. Dr. Rappeport then established the office of court psychiatrist for Baltimore County.

In 1967 Judge Dulaney Foster named Dr. Rappeport the chief medical officer for the Supreme Bench in Baltimore City. In this role, he interviewed people who came before what is now the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. He retired in 1992.

In 1969 he became the first president of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

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His advice was sought when Arthur Bremer shot Democratic presidential candidate George Wallace in a Laurel shopping center parking lot in 1972. He was also called upon to study the case of Sara Jane Moore, who tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford in San Francisco three years later.

Dr. Jonas R. Rappeport is pictured in 1985. He was named chief medical officer or the Supreme Bench in Baltimore City in 1967 and retired in 1992. PAUL HUTCHINS/BALTIMORE SUN
Dr. Jonas R. Rappeport is pictured in 1985. He was named chief medical officer or the Supreme Bench in Baltimore City in 1967 and retired in 1992. PAUL HUTCHINS/BALTIMORE SUN (Paul Hutchins/Baltimore Sun/Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

Dr. Rappeport was one of a team of forensic psychiatrists who worked the aftermath of an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

He interviewed John W. Hinckley Jr., who dangerously wounded Reagan at the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue.

Dr. Rappeport spent much of the year preparing to go to trial as an expert witness in the case against the assassin, though he was not ultimately called by a federal prosecutor to testify.

“Jonas and I interviewed Hinckley at the Butner Federal Detention Center in North Carolina,” said Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist who was trained by Dr. Rappeport at Johns Hopkins. “We also traveled to Colorado to interview Hinckley’s parents and to see the family home. We went to a gun store where he bought arms. We also went to the crime scene at the Hilton Hotel.”

A 1992 Sun article said, “Not testifying in that trial was perhaps the biggest disappointment in a celebrated 40-year career in forensic psychiatry that begins to wind down.”

The article described Dr. Rappeport as “a small man with square, large-framed glasses that dominate his oval face [with] an unexpectedly booming voice.”

Dr. Dietz, who came to Baltimore and Johns Hopkins, said: “Jonas was perhaps the most generous and kind person I’ve ever encountered. As a medical student, he invited me to his home, to meet his family and to go fishing. ... He also had the ability to tell you when you were wrong and he disagreed with you without giving offense.”

A daughter, Sally Rappeport of Philmont, New York, said: “My father was an enthusiast for life. Whatever he did, he would delve in deeply. He loved good food and restaurants and wine. As a teenager I once complained we were eating too many frozen vegetables. The next summer, my father, a great gardener, quadrupled the vegetable output from his garden.”

Another daughter, Susan Bleiberg of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, said: “My father was a true Renaissance man. He was an intellectual and was down to earth. He found a way to connect with everyone. He was a great father and loved his family.”

In addition to his three daughters, he is survived by four grandchildren and a companion, Alma Smith. His wife of 54 years, Joan Rappeport, died in 2007.

Virtual funeral services will be held at noon Thursday at Sol Levinson and Brothers.

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