Federal prosecutors in Washington say a man locked up in a city hospital for the criminally insane since stealing a $20 necklace in 1971 should remain there, but are still offering no clues on why his bid for release has languished in the courts for nearly six years.
In its first public comments on the case, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington made clear they believe Franklin H. Frye could be a danger to himself and the public and should remain detained at St. Elizabeths Hospital.
But prosecutors did not say why the case has been stalled since the spring of 2008, when the public defender’s office filed papers seeking his release. Court records show his case was not transferred from the late Judge John Garrett Penn’s docket until Jan. 9, 2014 — six years and four months after the jurist’s death. Likewise, court officials have declined to comment on the delay.
“In summary, defendant’s inability to comply with hospital rules and prescribed medication has resulted in his extended confinement to a hospital setting,” government lawyers wrote of Mr. Frye’s more than four decade-long stay at St. Elizabeths.
“He continues to display impaired judgment and insight, denies that he is mentally ill and states that he will not take medication if released,” attorneys wrote, adding that Mr. Frye is currently functioning at the level of a 5-year-old and requires the appointment of a legal guardian.
Mr. Frye was found not guilty by reason of insanity for stealing a necklace in 1971 and was sent to St. Elizabeths, the same institution that housed would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr., who has since been found not guilty after shooting President Reagan in 1981.
The Washington Times reported on the delay in Mr. Frye’s case in January.
At the time, court officials and lawyers declined to respond to questions about why Mr. Frye’s motion for release languished for so long.
The new U.S. attorney’s filing made no mention of Mr. Frye’s 2008 motion for release. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, declined to comment when reached Monday.
In a filing seeking Mr. Frye’s release in January, Silvana Naguib, an attorney in the mental health division for the D.C. public defender’s office, wrote that the hospital director had recommended Mr. Frye’s release to look for a job just two years after he was first committed.
Though he would get into fights with patients over food, money or “other hotly desired commodities of institutional life,” such conflicts have all but vanished now that he’s nearly 70, she wrote.
Hospital officials said in a letter they oppose an unconditional release but would support conditional release privileges with a gradual progression toward “convalescent leave,” according to court records.
City mental health officials have declined to comment publicly on the case. But a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Mental Health in January said generally, officials review cases of those found guilty by reason of insanity at least once per year “with the goal of assessing readiness for reintegration into the community.”