Judge Drops Murder Charge Against Mentally Retarded Man
Posted October 8, 2007 3:51 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2007 7:45 p.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — A Durham County judge has dismissed charges against a Dorothea Dix patient awaiting trial for 14 years on a murder charge.
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson on Monday also ordered that Floyd Lee Brown, 43, of Anson County, be released from custody after a hearing in which defense attorneys argued that Brown's detention was unlawful.
Brown was arrested in 1993 in connection with the beating death of 80-year-old Katherine Lynch, but he was deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Authorities have said that Brown confessed to the crime, but his attorneys argued he did not have the mental capacity to do so. Prosecutors maintained that Brown was dangerous and refused to drop the case against him.
"Somehow, it is possible for him to be held until he dies," Hudson said. "To me, it doesn't seem right."
Psychiatrists and a social worker testified Monday that Brown, who has an IQ of 50, should be able to leave Dorothea Dix to stay in a monitored group home and that he was not a threat to society.
Brown will remain at Dorothea Dix until his attorney finds an appropriate group home for him.
"I feel alright. I'm happy," Brown said as he left the courthouse, accompanied by his father and sister. "It's a whole lot better."
Brown's relatives said it always was clear he did not commit the crime.
"The system we looked to protect him just failed. Anybody who looked could see he didn't do it, but nobody cared," said Brown's sister, Frances Staton. "The 14 years are gone. I can't bring them back. The main thing now is, he's free."
Monday's hearing stemmed from a writ of habeas corpus, which is basically a request to free someone and can be heard in any county.
Anson County authorities said Brown confessed to using a walking stick to beat Lynch in her home, just down the street in Wadesboro from the house he shared with his mother.
In the confession, Brown said he struck Lynch five times after she refused his request for a dollar, telling Brown she did not have any money to give him.
But his attorneys challenged the validity of the confession, calling a pair of expert witnesses Monday who said the flowing narrative language of the typewritten document that Brown signed didn't match his halting speech.
"His speech is marked by being very repetitive," said Dr. Mark Hazelrig, a forensic psychologist at Dorothea Dix.
The defense also attacked other elements of the prosecution's case, pointing out that the detectives who investigated Lynch's murder later pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges in unrelated cases.
Brown's attorney argued that new evidence suggests that the description of the suspect does not match Brown, and Lynch's actual time of death was several hours before police claim Brown killed her.
Dave Cloutier, an expert in evidence and a retired state Department of Justice instructor, testified Monday that much of the evidence had been lost, including the walking stick. He also said there was no evidence that Brown had ever been inside Lynch's house.
"Floyd Lee Brown would not be in Dorothea Dix if it were not for a bogus confession
and evidence that has vanished from the Anson County Sheriff's Office," his attorney, Mike Klinkosum, told Hudson. "Mr. Brown has fallen into a statutory black hole."
Monday's hearing before Hudson marked the first time Brown's case was heard outside of Anson County, located southeast of Charlotte on the South Carolina border.
Anson County District Attorney Michael Parker, who had previously said Brown was "too dangerous" to release, said state law doesn't address how to handle criminal defendants such as Brown, whose mental health can't be improved through treatment.
"There needs to be some look at the mental health system for people like Mr. Brown,"
Parker said. "I'm constantly getting releases from Dorothea Dix who are not competent. We have to dismiss. Then, six months later, they're back in court."
Prosecutors offered Brown a plea deal last year on a charge of voluntary manslaughter, with credit for the time he had spent in state custody.
But Klinkosum said that when he presented the offer to Brown, it was clear he did not understand what was happening.
A judge later agreed when, rejecting a request for a trial, finding that Brown was incapable of assisting with his own defense.