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January 22, 2014

Franklin H. Frye, they said, was insane when he was accused of swiping a $20 necklace.

That was 1970.

 He has spent the past decades locked away in a mental institution.

 Not until 2006 did his case come up for review. The judge died. And so Frye remained behind closed doors until the case was revisited in recent weeks.

We read ...

David Rudovsky, a civil rights lawyer and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said the case suggests a “breakdown in justice in the court system.”

Although it’s unclear who is to blame, the larger question — raised anew in a motion by the D.C. Public Defender Service — is why Mr. Frye’s case has languished.

“Mr. Frye has been waiting over five years to have this motion heard by the court,” Silvana Naguib, a lawyer now representing him, wrote in a Jan. 8 legal filing.

Court officials did not respond to a request for comment, and the U.S. attorney’s office, which did not file a response to the 2008 motion for Mr. Frye’s release, declined to comment.

“Mr. Frye was accused of stealing a necklace that was valued at approximately twenty dollars,” Ms. Naguib wrote in the motion. “He has been at St. Elizabeths Hospital almost continuously since.”

Referring to the 2008 motion for his release, which was filed by a different attorney, she added, “Over five years later, no response has been filed by any party and no action has been taken by the court.”

Mr. Frye has spent some time out of the hospital. He attended an outpatient program at Washington Hospital Center until December, which ended because of funding problems, according to the motion.

Over four decades, he has sought release a number of times. Two years after he was committed, the hospital director recommended that Mr. Frye be “unconditionally released,” but instead he received a conditional release to look for a job, court records show.

“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,” Ms. Naguib wrote.

“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.”

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