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Escapee to undergo psychological testing

November 24, 1997


Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Banner Cornell Catlett will undergo further psychiatric examination, but not at a hospital that he escaped from after being given a pass to walk the grounds unsupervised, a judge ruled Friday.

Catlett escaped Sept. 6 from the William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Weston, W.Va., where he was undergoing a competency examination before his scheduled Sept. 23 murder trial.

He is charged with shooting Andrew Mason twice in the head at Mason's home in Hedgesville, W.Va., on Feb. 4.

Catlett was caught on Sept. 29 in Los Angeles, where he was staying with a relative.

On Friday, Berkeley County Circuit Judge Thomas Steptoe ordered Catlett to continue being held without bond.

Steptoe also ordered that Catlett undergo psychiatric evaluation at the mental health unit of the South Central Regional Jail.

Both public defender Jerome J. Dambro and Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said further examination of Catlett is needed to determine his mental state.


But Games-Neely said the examination should occur at a facility where he can be locked in a cell.

Steptoe agreed, saying Sharpe may not be the proper facility for such evaluations.

"He was given a pass?" the judge said incredulously.

Steptoe scheduled the trial to begin on March 10.

Catlett's mental state is at issue because he was found innocent of arson by reason of insanity in June in Berkeley County Circuit Court. He had been accused of setting fire to the house in which he was living in September 1995, causing $50,000 in damage.

Steptoe committed Catlett to Sharpe for 20 years after the June trial.

At the arson trial, Dambro said his client would exhibit "inexplicable behavior," such as staying in the woods naked and talking about trying to communicate with satellites.

Mason was an Assembly of God church volunteer who was attempting to help Catlett with his problems when his door was kicked open and he was shot in the head twice by a .22-caliber rifle.

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