Criminal Justice

Man acquitted due to insanity in stolen necklace case spends four decades in mental hospital

Franklin Frye was dispatched to a mental hospital in 1971 after a not-guilty-by-insanity verdict in the case of a stolen necklace valued at about $20. Since then he has sought his release several times; his 2008 motion was never acted on.

The Washington Times covered Frye’s plight in a story reprinted by the Associated Press. Two years after Frye was committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., the hospital director recommended Frye’s release. Instead, Frye was given a conditional release to look for a job. According to a new motion (PDF) filed on Frye’s behalf, he has nonetheless been at St. Elizabeths “almost continuously” since his 1971 commitment.

Frye did spend some time out of the hospital at an outpatient program that ended in December because of funding problems, the motion says.

An April 2008 motion for Frye’s release said he had recovered his sanity, a claim made in the new filing seeking release. According to the Jan. 8 motion, Frye is nearly 70 and “displays no dangerous behavior of any kind.” Public defenders filed both motions, though the attorneys differed.

The judge handling Frye’s case had died in 2007. After the new motion was filed, the case was transferred to a living judge. According to the Washington Times, the chain of events “suggests a serious judicial breakdown.”

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