A former prison psychologist admitted in court yesterday to helping her lover, a convicted armed robber, escape from a Jessup, Md., medium security prison in May.
Elizabeth Feil, 42, of Annapolis, pleaded guilty to one charge of being an accessory after the fact to the escape, and prosecutors dropped three related charges against her. She could face up to five years in prison for helping Byron L. Smoot, 38, hide from police by driving him to a Baltimore motel moments after he slipped out of the Maryland Correctional Institute on May 18. Convicted murderer Gregory L. Lawrence, 39, escaped with him. They were captured two days later.
The escapes, the only ones during the 1990s at the prison, led to disciplinary action against the warden and more than a dozen officials. The incident became a major embarrassment for state corrections officials after it was revealed that Feil visited Smoot in prison dozens of times despite being barred from contact with prisoners after previously losing her job as an inmate counselor.
A corrections investigation found that sloppy security allowed the two felons to slip over a fence while prisoners were outdoors in the yard and kept corrections officials from realizing it for hours afterward. The prison's alarms, fences, watchtowers and electronic monitoring were upgraded after the escapes.
Feil appeared briefly yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in Annapolis, her once long gray hair cut shorter and dyed red. When Judge Clayton Greene asked her if she was admitting her guilt, she replied: "Yes, I am."
Feil briskly left the courtroom, declining to comment. She did engage in a short but heated confrontation with her former live-in boyfriend, Glenn Bosshard, 45, of Annapolis, who was waiting for her in the court's hallway. Later, an emotional Bosshard, when asked if he missed Feil, said, "Yes, I do."
Intimate details of the romance between the Ph.D. and the inmate were made public within days of the escape when Bosshard provided news outlets with copies of letters between Smoot and Feil as well as revealing photos of herself that she sent the inmate.
In 1997, Smoot was in the second year of a 29-year sentence for armed robberies in the Glen Burnie area when he was assigned Feil as a counselor. Their correspondence started with discussions of mundane legal matters and prison rules. Eventually, she was asking him to run off to Australia, and he would write her lengthy, detailed descriptions of his sexual fantasies, the couple's letters revealed.
Prison guards found one of the letters in Smoot's cell the night of the escape, and that discovery led police to Feil.
Prosecutors yesterday dropped a charge against Feil of being an accessory after the fact in Lawrence's escape, as well as two charges of harboring escapees.
The night of the escape, Feil picked up the two convicts outside the prison and drove them to a Baltimore motel, prosecutors said. She checked them in under the name of her sister, then tended to injuries they had received from barbed wire and bought them alcohol. She spent the night with Smoot before going to work at a therapist's office the next day. Investigators contacted her there.
Feil will be sentenced March 15.
Friends and family intend to say at her sentencing that she has been humiliated and depressed by the crime and does not deserve jail time, according to her attorney, Ike Dixon III. "I can't imagine jail time serving any useful purpose," he said.
Prosecutors said in interviews that Feil deserves prison confinement because she risked public safety by helping the escapees, who had histories of violence. They did not specify what term they will recommend.
Feil told the court yesterday she is suffering from depression, working in a non-mental-health job and living with relatives in Maryland.
CAPTION: Elizabeth Feil leaves court after pleading guilty in Annapolis. She could face up to five years in prison.