|James Clark is charged with first-degree murder of his grandmother, Eleanor Clark. He was undergoing a mental health evaluation yesterday at Bridgewater State Hospital.|
Grandson's erratic behavior detailed
Mother says she told slain woman not to give cash
A young man accused of fatally stabbing and slitting the throat of his 80-year-old grandmother in Weston "loved his granny" but might have committed the crime because she was following instructions to not give him any cash, his mother said yesterday.
Catherine Clark, whose 22-year-old son, James Patrick Maguire Clark, was charged Sunday with first-degree murder, said she had advised her mother not to give him any money because he had to be more self-reliant.
"When I left, I told everyone no more handouts for James," Clark, who left Quincy and moved to England last week to work as head of development at the Royal School of Church Music in Salisbury, said in a telephone interview.
Catherine Clark also said she did not have any immediate plans to return to the United States despite her son's arrest and the slaying of her mother, Eleanor Clark.
"What do I have to come back for?" said Catherine Clark, who described years of frustrating and costly efforts to get her son the psychiatric treatment he needed. "What do I have to come home to? My kid hates me, or he thinks he does.
"There will be a memorial service for my mother some time in the summer. My mother hated funerals. She wanted to be cremated and blown to the four winds."
New details emerged yesterday about the erratic behavior of James Clark, who, according to his mother, began suffering psychotic episodes shortly after graduating from the exclusive Cambridge School of Weston four years ago.
In June 2007, he took his mother's car without permission and led police on a chase at more than 65 miles an hour through a quiet residential neighborhood in Needham before he abandoned the automobile and ran into a wooded area along Route 128, according to a Needham police report. After an officer arrested the shirtless Clark and asked why he had fled, Clark responded that he "freaked out and ran," said the report.
Clark was charged with using a car without the owner's authority and failing to stop for a police officer. He was treated in a psychiatric unit at Newton-Wellesley Hospital for two weeks after the episode because of depression, his mother said. "He had no idea what he'd done," she said.
Around the same time, his friends had grown concerned about Clark's drinking.
Catherine Freddo, a friend from the Cambridge School who went to the prom with him, said Clark got drunk in March 2007 and staggered into the frigid ocean off Westport, forcing her and her friends to yank him out of the icy water.
Freddo said she was worried about Clark's instability and lack of focus. He dropped out of two colleges, Hartwick College in upstate New York and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He bunked in the college dorm rooms of friends from high school. Still, Freddo said she had no idea he might be violent until she heard about his arrest in the slaying of his grandmother.
"I didn't sleep last night; I'm horrified," said Freddo, a 21-year-old senior at Smith College, who is vacationing in Florence, Italy. "He was a really good friend to me. I'm shocked."
Clark, who was arraigned Monday in Waltham District Court, was undergoing a mental health evaluation yesterday at Bridgewater State Hospital, said his lawyer, Arthur Kelly. Officials at the Middlesex House of Correction had transferred him there.
Kelly filed a request yesterday with the court to let him hire a mental health specialist to conduct a separate evaluation of Clark to determine whether he is competent to assist in his defense.
Authorities said Clark went to the home of his grandmother on Sunday, struck her with a blunt object, and used a folding knife to repeatedly stab her and cut her throat. He later apologized to officers who arrested him for "making us look at his grandmother" and asked "that we give him a gun so he could shoot himself," police wrote in a report.
Catherine Clark, 57, said her son was close to Eleanor Clark and visited her every few weeks in Weston. She was a lover of Renaissance music who played the harpsichord and was a political activist who championed civil rights during the 1960s and protested the proliferation of nuclear warheads.
"He worshiped her," Catherine Clark said of her son. "He loved his granny."
In recent years, Catherine Clark said, her son flitted from one ambition to the next, but could not seem to stick with anything.
He was a British subject because he was born in the United Kingdom, and trained for a while as an officer cadet at the University of Aberdeen Officer Training Corps.
But he returned to the United States, drank excessively, and often behaved strangely.
He bounced from psychiatrist to psychiatrist, but they struggled to diagnose his illness, and he resisted treatment, she said.
Catherine Clark said her therapist told her that her son "is an adult, and he can choose what he does and doesn't want to do," she recalled. "The only thing you can restrain people for, or punish people for, is what they do and not what they might do."
On Jan. 6, after James Clark took his mother's car again and credit card and purchased a high-powered air rifle, she called Quincy police to her house. They gave him a choice between being arrested or going to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. He went to Arbour-Fuller Hospital in South Attleboro, but checked himself out soon afterward, his mother said.
Under state law, people cannot be committed for psychiatric treatment against their will unless they pose a danger to themselves or others or cannot take care of themselves because of a mental illness, said Dr. Harold J. Bursztajn, cofounder of Harvard University's program in psychiatry and the law.
"There's always a balance between wanting to go ahead and protect society on the one hand and, on the other hand, respecting individual autonomy," he said.
Saltzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.