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The confinement in a secure mental institution of a man who committed a lurid murder 25 years ago has been upheld by a New York appellate court. The Appellate Division, Second Department, on Monday unanimously affirmed a lower court decision in the case of former teacher Albert Fentress, who molested a teenage boy, killed him and then cannibalized the body. Matter of Albert F. (Anonymous), 2002-08817, Suffolk County Justice James M. Catterson had ordered Mr. Fentress confined in a secure psychiatric facility after a recommitment hearing determined that he was suffering from a dangerous mental disorder. He was ordered transferred from a less secure psychiatric facility on Long Island to the maximum security facility at Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center in Orange County. The appeal’s case caption sought to protect Mr. Fentress’ confidentiality, as is common in petitions to commit a mentally ill person to a New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) facility. However, the facts of his case are well known and unique, making it instantly recognizable. In 1979, Mr. Fentress lured 18-year-old Paul Masters into his Poughkeepsie home, kept him there at gunpoint, sodomized and tortured him and then shot him to death. He then ate parts of the young man’s body. Mr. Fentress pleaded not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect and was committed to a secure Office of Mental Health facility in 1980. Nearly five years later, after a finding that he was no longer suffering from a dangerous mental disorder, Mr. Fentress was transferred to a nonsecure facility. At that point, as required by New York’s Criminal Procedure Law 330.20, a Supreme Court justice issued an order of conditions to accompany the transfer order. The order was the focus of Mr. Fentress’ appeal because it expired five years later without being renewed by the mental health commissioner. It detailed the conditions of his confinement, including a directive that he was not to leave the facility without authorization. Mr. Fentress again captured public attention in 1998 by convincing a Suffolk County jury that, although he was mentally ill, he was not in need of continued inpatient treatment. However a judge set aside the jury verdict. In 2002, the commissioner petitioned for Mr. Fentress’ recommitment. Mr. Fentress, noting the expiration of the original order, sought dismissal of the petition on the ground that there was no existing order of conditions. Thus, he maintained, the Supreme Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the petition. The commissioner was seeking to move Mr. Fentress to a secure facility. The retrial of his suit revealed that, before the murder of Mr. Masters, Mr. Fentress had repeatedly sodomized a 10-year-old neighbor he had been tutoring. Justice Howard Miller, writing for the four-judge panel, said that when confronted with notice of the expired order, Justice Catterson properly extended it retroactively. Justice Miller said the Second Department was adopting the reasoning of a First Department ruling, Matter of Stone, 294 AD2d 59, which came down a few weeks before Justice Catterson acted. In Stone, the court cited public policy reasons to overturn rulings that denied applications to extend expired orders of conditions in the cases of two people acquitted on grounds of insanity. “By denying petitions as jurisdictionally defective, a motion court could divest OMH and the district attorney of supervisory authority and permit insanity acquittees to be released into the community without any determination as to whether or not they are a danger to themselves or the public,” Justice Angela M. Mazzarelli wrote for the unanimous First Department panel . Justice Miller agreed with the First Department that the state Legislature had not restricted a court’s authority to extend an expired order of conditions. The extension of the order “in essence simply corrected the written record to conform to Albert F.’s situation,” he said. Mr. Fentress’ recommitment to a more secure facility was not based on a violation of the order of conditions, but on a finding that he suffered from a dangerous mental disorder, the judge concluded. Therefore, Justice Miller wrote, Mr. Fentress had not been prejudiced by the retroactive extension of the order of condition. Justices David S. Ritter, Sondra Miller and Gloria Goldstein concurred with Justice Howard Miller’s opinion. Mr. Fentress was considering filing a motion for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals, said Dennis B. Feld, one of his lawyers from the Mental Hygiene Legal Services in Mineola. Other members of the team included Sidney Hirschfeld, Lisa Volpe and Kim Darrow. Assistant Attorneys General Marion R. Buchbinder and Thomas B. Litsky appeared for the commissioner of the Office of Mental Health. Assistant District Attorney Bridget Rahilly Steller argued for Dutchess District Attorney William V. Grady.

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