Franklin Frye has spent the last 43 years of his life locked up in a mental hospital. What kind of deranged, psychotic behavior could have put him there for over four decades?
The theft of a $20 necklace.
Frye was sentenced to do time at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. in 1971 when he pleaded insanity for stealing the necklace, according to a Washington Times investigation. The hospital houses criminals like John Hinckley Jr., the would-be assassin of President Ronald Reagan.
In what civil rights lawyer David Rudovsky called a “breakdown in justice in the court system,” a public defender filed a notion for Frye’s release six years ago, but the case was never heard. The judge handling Frye’s case had died—and only recently did a new judge pick it up.
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“Mr. Frye has been waiting over five years to have this motion heard by the court,” his current lawyer, Silvana Naguib, wrote in a Jan. 8 legal filing.
A mere two years after he was committed, the hospital’s director recommended that Frye be unconditionally released. Instead he was conditionally released to look for a job, according to court records. He did spent some time in the outside world at an outpatient program, but it ran out of funding in December and he was committed again.
While Frye found adjusting to life in St. Elizabeth’s difficult at first, at 70 years old he know poses no danger to anyone.
“In the early years of Mr. Frye’s hospitalization, Mr. Frye would sometimes get in fights with other patients, often over money, food, clothing and the other hotly desired commodities of institutional life,” Naguib wrote.
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“However, in the last decade, as Mr. Frye has aged, these conflicts have all but vanished. Now, nearly 70, Mr. Frye displays no dangerous behavior of any kind.”
While the hospital claims to review patients’ readiness for “reintegration into the community” every year, neither hospital staff nor judicial officials have responded to Frye’s motion to leave.
“When a court hearing is set on this motion, St. Elizabeths will respond to the court,” said Phyllis Jones, chief of staff for the D.C. Department of Mental Health.