Montgomery County District Judge Henry J. Monahan was acquitted today of charges of breaking into a Hagerstown home and of assaulting two police officers. Monahan mounted an unusual defense in the case, arguing that a mild stroke led to his erratic behavior in the early-morning incident last May.
Monahan declined a jury trial, and retired Judge Edward O. Thomas was brought in to hear the case. In explaining the verdict, Thomas said that Monahan "was not criminally responsible for his acts -- he did not have criminal intent" because he was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the incident and had no control over his actions. The disorder, according to testimony today from two doctors who treated Monahan, was an uncommon form of amnesia caused by a small brain stem stroke, which cut the blood supply to his temporal lobe and caused "transient global amnesia."
"Absent medical reasons, he would be guilty," Thomas said.
Police officers testified Tuesday that Monahan was intoxicated when arrested, that he slapped one officer in the face three times and cursed two of them repeatedly. Hospital records introduced at the trial said that Monahan's blood alcohol content was .228 percent. A level of .13 percent or above is grounds for a charge of intoxication, Maryland officials said.
Maryland's legal community was generally supportive of Monahan, who lawyers and judges say has a reputation as a reserved jurist who works hard and rarely has more than one or two drinks. Affidavits from 93 members of the bar were introduced during the trial as evidence that Monahan's behavior during the evening of May 2 and the morning of May 3 was "bizarre" and completely out of character.
Attorneys interviewed late today generally were pleased with the verdict. "I assume justice was done if the facts were such that the doctors testified that he [Monahan] had a stroke and as a result didn't know what he was doing," said Vincent Ferretti, president-elect of the Maryland State Bar Association.
Lawyers reached for comment dismissed the idea that today's verdict could lead to an increase in the use of amnesia as a defense strategy.
The use of a defense based on a defendant's diminished mental capacity is not new to the judicial system, according to the Washington branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We strongly believe it's a constitutionally required defense," said Arthur Spitzer, ACLU legal director. "You can't be convicted of a crime if you don't have any control over what you're doing."
Monahan slipped out of the courtroom as soon as the trial ended. His lawyers said he would have no comment on the outcome of the case or on his own plans. Since he was arrested, Monahan has been assigned by the chief judge of the District Court of Maryland to administrative work on civil cases. The chief judge, Robert F. Sweeney, was unavailable for comment today.
Previously, Monahan had presided over the kind of charges -- breaking and entering and assault and battery -- that he faced in this trial.
The trial opened Tuesday in Hagerstown in the Washington County District Court, about 1 1/2 miles from the private residence that Monahan was charged with trying to enter about 2 a.m. May 3 after an evening of partying with other members of the state judiciary gathered for their annual conference.
Earlier in the evening, at conference festivities for the judges, Monahan was observed kissing the hands of people, crossing himself and speaking in Latin, according to affidavits made by the judges and filed in the case.
Monahan's two doctors testified today that the events were the result of the stroke.
Dr. Stanley Cohan, a neurologist with Georgetown University School of Medicine, testified that he examined Monahan on May 7, five days after the stroke occurred. During the examination, he said, he found physical evidence of the damage that had resulted from the small stroke, including abnormalties in the pattern of Monahan's eye movements, leg reflexes and motor coordination.
"The patient had had a stroke, and that stroke had damaged the brain stem," Cohan told the court.
He said he had fixed the time of the stroke at about 9 p.m. on May 2 because that is when Monahan had lost his memory. Cohan said that the temporal global amnesia caused by the stroke continued for several hours and that while Monahan was suffering from the amnesia he had no control over his behavior.
A person who has temporal global amnesia, Cohan said, "is a psychotic . . . . he has no volitional control over what he is doing . . . just no control over impulse at all."
Cohan said that based on what he knew about Monahan's illness, "I feel he had a mental disorder . . . due to neurological illness . . . . ."
Small brain stem strokes account for about 10 to 15 percent of all strokes, Cohan said. But only some of the people who suffer such strokes develop transient global amnesia, he said.
Cohan and Dr. Joel Rosenthal, a Hagerstown neurologist who treated Monahan, ruled out Monahan's alcohol consumption as a contributing cause of the stroke he suffered. Their testimony also indicated that his suffering from the transient global amnesia may have eliminated some of his normal reticence to drink too much.
The doctors also agreed that there is no need for Monahan to have in-patient care. Cohan said that he examined Monahan Aug. 1 and found him neurologically intact.