Judge denies D.C. shotgun stalker 12-hour release from St. Elizabeths

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2011; 8:08 PM

The man called the shotgun stalker, who terrified the District in 1993 through a series of random attacks and killings, will not be released for his birthday from the psychiatric hospital where he has been held for almost two decades.

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Friday denied the request for a one-time, 12-hour release from St. Elizabeths Hospital for James E. Swann Jr., who shot nine people, killing four of them.

In his 10-page decision, Judge Fred B. Ugast recounted testimony from two psychiatrists who said Swann, 46, still suffers from schizophrenia and narcissistic personality disorder.

"If Mr. Swann were released, he would be a danger to himself or others," Ugast wrote.

Swann requested the one-time conditional release so that he could spend his birthday on Saturday with his father.

Swann has been a patient at St. Elizabeths since 1994, when he was declared not guilty by reason of insanity in the shootings. Psychiatrists had said he was driven by disembodied voices that only he could hear.

Swann's attorneys argued that their client no longer suffers from delusional, paranoid schizophrenia. They said his medication and treatment have resulted in significant improvement.

But after a two-day hearing this week, Ugast was unmoved.

"There are no conditions that would be set that would eliminate the risk of harm to Mr. Swann or others if he were released at this time," Ugast wrote.

For nearly eight weeks, beginning in February 1993, Swann wreaked havoc on the Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods. On 14 occasions, Swann drove to the District and, pointing a shotgun out of a car's driver's-side window, shot at random people.

At the time of his arrest, in a videotaped interview with a psychiatrist, Swann said he heard voices that commanded him to shoot people in those neighborhoods to avenge the murder of Malcolm X.

Prosecutors and St. Elizabeths officials objected to Swann's release. Prosecutors also objected to Swann's potential supervision by his father, James E. Swann Sr. Prosecutors noted that the elder Swann recently bought his son a T-shirt that read "Thrill to Kill."

During this week's hearings, Swann - against the advice of his attorneys - agreed to allow one of the surviving victims to speak at his hearing.

Hope Hallock, 41, who was shot in the head on St. Patrick's Day in 1993 and is now blind in her right eye, told Ugast that she had concerns about Swann's request. As Hallock spoke, Swann sat next to his attorneys and wiped away tears. Other victims and family members wrote letters to the court also expressing concern about releasing him.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company