A Baltimore judge has found Douglas Lester Sexton, the longtime Fells Point bar owner accused by two women of sexually abusing them 30 years ago when they were children, “no longer incompetent to stand trial.” Sexton’s trial date is set for July 10.
“I have no doubt now, based upon this report and my own observations, that beyond a reasonable doubt Mr. Sexton is competent to stand trial,” Judge Gale E. Rasin said from the bench at the May 9 hearing. Sexton, who had been held at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center since late March, walked out of court, free on bail and unsupervised.
Sexton was re-evaluated by psychiatrists at Perkins after a March status conference that was attended by one of his alleged victims and some of her family. Rasin ordered the inpatient evaluation six months after she had found him incompetent to stand trial.
With Sexton still shackled in front of her at 2:30 p.m on May 9, Rasin recounted his history in the mental health court—an experimental collaboration between prosecutors, public defenders, and mental health providers overseen by Rasin. Sexton was evaluated in September of 2011 by a psychiatrist at Perkins, but “there was no neuropsychological testing done,” Rasin said as the defendant looked on. Instead there was an interview in which the psychiatrist took Sexton’s answers “at face value.” According to Rasin, the psychiatrist would ask Sexton to explain some part of the judicial process, and when Sexton could not, the psychiatrist would explain the process and ask Sexton to repeat it back to him. When Sexton “was unable to provide any response, the psychiatrist simply drew the conclusion. . . that he was cognitively impaired.”
At a March status hearing, Rasin ordered Sexton to Perkins for an inpatient evaluation (“Committed,” Mobtown Beat, April 4). “This time they brought in a neuropsychologist,” Rasin said from the bench on May 9, “and this time Mr. Sexton apparently communicated quite an interest in a desire to be found competent. Being committed to a hospital like Perkins perhaps focuses the mind.”
She asked Sexton what law book he had been studying. Sexton said he thought the title was Know Your Rights.
“I been reading it for months now,” Sexton told the judge.
“Self-help is a wonderful thing,” Rasin replied.
In March, Sexton’s lawyer, Jason Silverstein, tried to keep his client out of the mental hospital, saying that an out-patient examination would suffice. Silverstein did not return phone calls asking for comment about the case.
Sexton’s case came to public light because neighbors of the bar noticed his presence there years after the charges were leveled (“Keeping Secrets,” Feature, March 14). Some said they thought Sexton might be faking mental disability to avoid facing the criminal charges. State mental competency experts said that such malingering is rare, but would be harder to detect without a forensic examination. Sexton, 76, was showing signs of dementia, his lawyers have said. Though he was getting treatment with an eye toward making him competent to stand trial, “someone like Douglas who is old and has dementia, he’s never going to become competent, most likely,” attorney Marc L. Zayon, a partner in the law firm that represents him, said in February.
Upon learning of Sexton’s incompetency, the Baltimore City Liquor Board moved to pull the liquor license of the bar, JHJ Saloon, that Sexton has operated with his wife since the early 1980s. The bar was given a May 1 deadline to change license ownership or close, and the family replaced Sexton with another family member on the license. The bar remains open for business, and Sexton has returned.
Zayon represented Sexton at the May hearing. “You’re going to be released today,” he told Sexton.
On hearing the finding that he was no longer incompetent, “[Sexton] was ready to jump for joy,” according to Jeannie Virts, one of two women who accused Sexton of rape. “They said he can’t have any contact with me or [the other accuser] and he still kept looking at me trying to speak,” Virts wrote in an e-mail to City Paper a couple of days after the hearing. “I felt sorry for him but no more. He was took out of hand cuffs and released like nothing ever happened.”
Rasin told Sexton that he would no longer be supervised by the court and no longer reporting to her. “You’re going to trial,” she told him, in a tone that suggested he’d won the grand prize. It is far from certain that Sexton will face trial, however.
“Let me just say for the witnesses’ benefit that competency is a measure of someone’s mental status in the moment,” Rasin said from the bench. “And, you know, [questions of] competency may be raised at any time.”
Zayon asked if Sexton could be released directly from the courthouse instead of being taken back to Perkins. “I’ve never been asked before,” Rasin replied, before deciding it was OK for the defendant to be released directly.
“I’m not worried about my belongings,” Sexton said, apparently referring to items he’d left behind at Perkins. A bailiff asked the judge whether he should unlock Sexton’s chains in the courtroom or take him downstairs. With the judge’s permission, he and a partner unlocked the former barkeep’s chains.