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High court considers if Dundalk killer must be returned to Ohio

Court of Appeals Judge Joseph M. Getty. (File photo)

Court of Appeals Judge Joseph M. Getty. (File photo)

ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s top court Tuesday grappled with whether a man found not criminally responsible in the stabbing death of his former Dundalk landlord must head to a state psychiatric facility or back to a prison in Ohio, where he is serving an 11-year sentence for assaulting a police officer.

Pablo Aleman’s attorney pressed the Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court ruling that Maryland is bound by the Interstate Agreement on Detainers’ call for prisoners to be returned to the state where they are already serving a criminal sentence. Piedad Gomez, an assistant Maryland public defender, said the IAD’s call for return contains an exception for individuals like Aleman who have been adjudged mentally ill and in need of treatment.

But Assistant Maryland Attorney General Benjamin Harris said the intermediate Court of Special Appeals correctly held that the exception applies to defendants suffering current mental incompetency, not to those – like Aleman – who were found to have been mentally ill at the time of their crime.

Harris told the high court that Ohio did not surrender its jurisdiction over Aleman when it returned him to Maryland for the limited purpose of resolving his murder charge for the killing of Victor Serrano, for which Aleman pleaded guilty but was found not criminally responsible.

With the Maryland prosecution complete, Aleman – now being held in the Baltimore County Detention Center – must be returned to Ohio, Harris said.

“Maryland, simply, no longer has jurisdiction over Mr. Aleman,” Harris added. “He is not Maryland’s anymore. He should go back.”

That argument, however, drew skepticism from Judge Joseph M. Getty.

“Apparently, Maryland does have him – in the Baltimore County Detention Center,” Getty said.

“Why doesn’t he have a vested right to mental health services?” Getty added. “He can’t get that treatment in the Baltimore County Detention Center.”

Harris held firm.

“He is in our (Maryland’s) possession, your honor; he is not ours to keep,” Harris said.

“It is not finders keepers, losers weepers,” Harris added. “He is in Ohio’s custody even as he sits in Baltimore County Detention Center.”

That situation drew scorn from Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, who wondered aloud why Aleman was ordered to be detained rather than hospitalized pending resolution of his appeal.

“Why is he still in detention” rather than in a mental health facility, Barbera asked. “No one in this room has any idea why that did not occur.”

Gomez, Aleman’s attorney, told the high court that Maryland’s jurisdiction superseded Ohio’s claim for Aleman’s return once he was found to be not criminally responsible.

“The provisions of the (IAD) agreement do not apply to someone adjudged mentally ill,” Gomez said.

Maryland law enforcement’s interstate hunt for Aleman ended two weeks after the March 17, 2016, slaying of Serrano when law enforcement discovered him in an Ohio hospital.

Aleman had been shot on a highway by a suburban Cincinnati police officer whom he had threatened with a knife while screaming, “Kill me, kill me.” The encounter, captured on Officer Josh Hilling’s body camera, can be seen on the YouTube website.

Aleman pleaded guilty in Ohio to felonious assault and was sentenced. He was subsequently transferred under the IAD to Maryland, where he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder but claimed he was not criminally responsible due to mental illness.

A Baltimore County Circuit Court jury agreed in 2018, and a judge initially ordered him committed to the state Department of Health. But local officials, citing the IAD, held him in a detention center and prepared to return him to Ohio.

Aleman filed a petition seeking enforcement of the order that he be committed to the department. But a judge rejected Aleman’s motion, saying the commitment order was trumped by the interstate compact.

The judge’s order of return has been stayed pending resolution of Aleman’s appeals.

In upholding Aleman’s ordered return, the Court of Special Appeals ruled last year that the IAD supersedes Section 3-112 of the Maryland Criminal Procedure Article, which provides for the commitment of people found not criminally responsible.

“Understandably, Mr. Aleman would prefer to be evaluated and, if necessary, treated for any mental disorders in Maryland rather than be incarcerated in Ohio,” Court of Special Appeals Judge Steven B. Gould wrote for the appellate court in September.

But “before Mr. Aleman’s transfer to Maryland, Ohio had full and exclusive custody of, and jurisdiction over, Mr. Aleman, meaning that the entire bundle of custodial rights and obligations over Mr. Aleman rested with Ohio,” Gould added. “When Maryland received Mr. Aleman under the IAD, it acquired just a single strand from that bundle, namely, the right to prosecute Mr. Aleman for the charges underpinning the detainer. Once Maryland exercised its lone custodial right over Mr. Aleman, it had none left.”

Gould was joined in the opinion by Chief Judge Matthew J. Fader and Glenn T. Harrell Jr., a retired jurist sitting by special assignment.

Aleman then sought review by the Court of Appeals

The high court is expected to render its decision by Aug. 31 in the case, Pablo Javier Aleman v. State of Maryland, No. 60 September Term 2019.

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