Gujan A. Lee, the last defendant to face trial in the Sept. 6 2004 rape of a Potomac woman, will undergo a psychological evaluation after his attorney submitted a plea of not criminally responsible by reason of insanity on his behalf.
According to the plea motion, filed Aug. 22 in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Lee “has a history of mental illness and ‘organic’ mental defects,” in part because his mother was addicted to crack cocaine and used it “extensively” while he was in utero.
Lee was also under the influence of marijuana, PCP, and alcohol at the time of the crime, according to his attorney, Loyd Byron Hopkins.
John McLane, spokesman for State's Attorney Doug Gansler, said that Assistant State's Attorney Deborah Armstrong would file a response to the plea and was proceeding with preparations for trial, but the State's Attorney's office did not wish to comment further on the plea.
Hopkins replaced Lee’s previous attorney, Barbara Graham, days before filing the insanity plea.
Both Hopkins and Graham are “panel attorneys” who are appointed under the auspices of the Office of the Public Defender in cases where a public defender has already been assigned to one of the defendants. Bringing in private panel attorneys prevents potential conflicts that could arise if multiple public defenders represented defendants in the same case. The panel attorneys work for "ridiculously little" compensation, according to Graham.
Graham said she could not talk about why she no longer represents Lee because it would be a violation of attorney-client privilege, but Hopkins pointed to the breakdown of a proposed plea agreement in an Aug. 1 Circuit Court hearing.
Graham and Assistant State’s Attorney Deborah Armstrong both said that they had expected Lee to plead guilty at the hearing, but Lee apparently changed his mind while being questioned by the judge and said that he wanted a trial. Proceedings are scheduled to begin Sept. 19.
Under the proposed agreement, Lee would have pleaded guilty to one count of rape, one count of first-degree sex offense, one count of first-degree burglary and one count of robbery with a dangerous weapon. His possible sentence would have been capped at life in prison; he could face four life sentences and a much longer prison term if he is convicted on all the charges against him.
Three of Lee’s co-defendants in the case have pleaded guilty under similar agreements, capping their possible sentences at 20, 25, and 45 years.
Following Lee’s apparent reversal, Graham raised questions about the fairness of the plea agreement offered to Lee, which allowed a much more severe sentence for a similar list of charges.
She reiterated those concerns last week. “The plea agreements with the other codefendants they’re all getting 20 or 25 year caps. That same or even remotely similar offer was never made to Mr. Lee,” she said. “You’re looking for the system to be fair.
I understand there are advantages to pleading guilty early. But how fairly is the state going about that?”
ACCORDING TO POLICE reports, court documents and statements made in court, four men entered a house on Falls Chapel Way during the early morning hours of Sept. 6, 2004.
The men were Lee, then 18, formerly of Washington, D.C., Schmouree Fordyce-Williams, then 19, formerly of Potomac, Chris Benbow, 17, of Upper Marlboro, and Kevin Croker, then 17, of Potomac. (See sidebar.)
Hopkins said that the defendants were using multiple illegal drugs in the hours leading up to the crimes.
“They were binging before the offense,” he said. “It was non-stop several hours before. That alone would have made him pretty much out of his right mind.”
But more central to the not-criminally-responsible plea is Hopkins’ argument that Lee suffered mental defects as the result of his mother’s crack cocaine use. Hopkins says Lee has grown up having depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and mental health issues, and that Lee’s parents “both have long, tortured drug addiction histories and failed to care for [him] and neglected him as a child.”
The plea motion states that because of these circumstances, Lee “lacked substantial capacity (1) appreciate the criminality of [his] conduct or (2) to conform that conduct to the requirements of the law.”
A motions hearing is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 2, but it is not clear whether the hearing will go forward or be continued until Lee is evaluated.
Hopkins said that the presiding judge, Circuit Court Judge James L. Ryan will order the evaluation by an independent analyst. The evaluation will seek to determine two things: whether Lee is competent to stand trial and whether he was suffering from a mental defect or deficiency at the time of the crime.
“I can tell you he’s competent, so that’s not the issue,” Hopkins said, meaning that Lee is able to understand the court proceedings and assist his attorney as necessary. “The issue becomes whether at the time of the offense he was suffering from a mental defect or deficiency. … I’m not a doctor, so I can’t say 100 percent right now that he has an organic mental defect. But clearly it’s more likely than not he does.”
“When he was born, he had a high level of cocaine in his system. This guy just basically had no chance out of the womb. It’s really startling, this guy’s personal story,” he said.
INSANITY PLEAS are familiar to most people from television and film dramas, but in reality are very rare, according to Dr. Michael Aamodt, a professor of psychology at Radford University in Virginia, who has studied criminal psychology. The pleas come in only about 1 percent of cases and only about one in four insanity pleas is successful.
“They typically don’t work,” Aamodt said, but sometimes the insanity pleas morph into what is called a “designer defense” in which the defense presents reasons for the crime that mitigate the defendant’s guilt — life circumstances and mental disabilities, for example.
To win an outright insanity plea, the defense must show that the defendant either “didn’t know what he was doing, he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong, or he knew but he couldn’t stop himself,” depending on state criminal law, according to Aamodt.
IF THE PSYCHOLOGICAL examination confirms Hopkins’ assertion, the parties in the case could agree to forgo trial and assign Lee to a mental institution for treatment, but Hopkins said that scenario is highly unlikely.
“No matter what the report says, I’m very sure and positive that [State’s Attorney Doug] Gansler and Ms. Armstrong will fight it and say the doctor and the science are wrong.
Graham, no longer on the case, said she expects Armstrong to “go ballistic over this [plea].”
But Graham also said that Ryan is an excellent judge to handle the case fairly. Many defense attorneys don’t like facing Ryan, she said, because he is known as a tough sentencer, but she called him “the epitome of a judge.”
“He puts on the robe, he takes nothing personally, he doesn’t take it home with him, he doesn’t get emotionally involved, he tries to do the right thing and follow the law in every case,” she said.