The morning of March 21, 2011, Rohan Goodlett spoke during a psychiatric group therapy session. It was part of a Maryland state program — one of the largest of its kind in the nation — designed to monitor people who have committed crimes, suffer from significant mental illness and are permitted to live in the community.
Goodlett said he didn’t want to come to the sessions anymore or continue treatment. If that meant he ended up in jail, so be it.
What the 35-year-old didn’t tell anyone was that several days before, he had slipped into his neighbor’s home in the peaceful community of Olney and shot the 81-year-old man in the head. Part of Goodlett’s reasoning: The man’s address ended in 40, the same number of years Moses had wandered in the wilderness.
And what no one in the therapy group could have known was that within eight hours of their session’s end, Goodlett would gun down a stranger walking down the street. He would later say he was getting instructions from his TV, and had concluded he needed to kill or be killed.
The startling details, revealed in court last week as the long-running murder cases against Goodlett came to an end, showed just how far Goodlett had deteriorated without the notice of state monitors. Montgomery County Circuit Judge Cheryl McCally ruled at the time of the killings that Goodlett was legally insane. She ordered him committed to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital.
The case — along with a vicious knife assault committed seven months later by another program participant — set off internal reviews and changes at Maryland’s Community Forensic Aftercare Program. The cases yielded more staff members to monitor the treatment of about 725 participants. It was only three more positions, but there had been only four prior to the Goodlett case. The additional staff has allowed monitors to cut their caseloads nearly in half.
“Having the extra monitors has made a huge impact,” said Lori Mannino, the program’s director.
The monitors are more active. They have time to leave the office to visit clinicians and speak directly with participants.
The program is still designed for offenders deemed less of a public safety risk than offenders with mental illness who are locked in state forensic hospitals. Those who run the program say that the Goodlett case was extremely rare, that participants benefit from being in the community, and that it would cost an estimated $265 million annually to house the 700-plus participants at existing forensic hospitals.
“I don’t think we could manage the system without a robust program like this,” said Erik Roskes, clinical director of the forensic services division of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Goodlett’s story is also one about the destructive power of his disease, and how its effects stood in such contrast to his and his family’s accomplishments.
The family lived in a two-story home along winding Olney Mill Road in the heart of suburban Maryland, about 12 miles north of the District.
Rohan’s father, Rackham, was a mathematics professor at Howard University. His three brothers graduated from Howard and became a physician, minister and an IT manager, according to court records. Rohan also graduated from Howard, where he played soccer and earned a 3.8 grade point average before taking a management job in the hotel industry.
But his mental illness — Goodlett eventually was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder — worsened, leading to problems at work and the loss of his job.
In 2006, he was arrested for trespassing at a barbershop where he worked, leading to his involuntary commitment at a psychiatric hospital in Rockville. He then returned to jail and later was released.
In 2008, Goodlett was charged with fourth-degree burglary and harassment for trying to force his way into the home of a woman he knew. A judge found him “not criminally responsible” because of mental illness, and he ended up in the community monitoring program.
During the court hearing last week, Goodlett’s lawyer, Mary Siegfried, argued that her client had not gotten the treatment or supervision he needed. She said one of his appointments with a psychiatric professional lasted only 11 minutes, and no one was drawing his blood to check if he was still taking his medication.
State officials said that confidentiality rules forbid them from commenting specifically about Goodlett’s treatment. But they said a review of his case in 2011 showed there were no red flags raised to signal he should have been committed to a hospital.
“No one had reported a violation,” said Larry Fitch, then-
director of the Office of Forensic Services at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who is a University of Maryland law school instructor.
In court last week, prosecutor Peter Feeney described Goodlett’s interactions with family and friends in the months before the murders. At one point, Goodlett told his mother there was something in his stomach, explaining “it’s inside me and no one understands.” He sometimes had conversations with himself in two voices, prompting his father to put his hands on his shoulders and ask: “Who am I speaking to? Is it Rohan or someone else. . . . I want to talk to my son.” Just weeks prior to the murders, Goodlett told his mother: “I’m the reason the sun shines. . . . I’m not crazy. It’s just so.”
Siegfried described what doctors found to be Goodlett’s state of mind when he slipped into his neighbor’s house and killed him. He likened himself to Moses and said his skin was glowing as he was seeking God. “I felt like if I didn’t do it, I would be letting my people down,” he told a doctor.
In court, Goodlett spoke briefly to the judge in a clear, soft voice. “I don’t by any means wish to belittle the situation,” he said. “But it was my sickness that caused me to feel like I was under some kind of attack.” He said his heart goes out to the family and friends of the victims. “There’s not a day that I don’t wake up and feel remorse,” he said.