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Judge rules serial stowaway Marilyn Hartman unfit for trial

Marilyn Hartman | Cook County sheriff's office

A Cook County judge on Thursday found serial stowaway Marilyn Hartman unfit for trial and ordered that she be sent to a mental health facility in Elgin.

The ruling by Judge Maura Slattery Boyle came after she considered court-ordered reports from a psychologist and psychiatrist who evaluated the 66-year-old, who has become a national celebrity for sneaking onto airplanes.

The evaluations – by the same experts who evaluated Hartman following an arrest at O’Hare Airport in 2015 – mark the first time she has been found unfit for trial among her many trips through the criminal justice system.

Hartman previously served jail time after arrests at airports in Chicago, Florida, Hawaii and California.

Both experts recommended mental health treatment for Hartman, with her attorney requesting outpatient care rather than the secure confinement requested by prosecutors.

“This defendant needs to be in a secure, locked facility, Assistant State’s Attorney Kimellen Chamberlain said, noting that Hartman had attempted to walk out of an interview room when left unattended during one of her evaluation interviews and also was observed trying to open locked doors while at the Cook County Jail hospital.

The reports will remain under seal, but portions read aloud in court included a litany of mental health problems afflicting Hartman, who sat placidly between her attorneys during the hour-plus hearing.

Psychologist Christopher Cooper, said that Hartman’s mental stability was “intermittent and appears to fluctuate day to day.” Hartman was described by Cooper as an “intelligent woman” who understands the charges against her, but suffers from “major depression,” delusions in which she believes she is being persecuted, and has a “preoccupation with media attention.”

Hartman’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Parle Roe-Taylor declined to answer questions about the specific nature of Hartman’s delusions, or why they drive her to sneak into airports.

Hartman’s latest arrest carries the most serious charges she has faced: felony theft, burglary and trespassing.

All those charges stem from her sneaking aboard a British Airways flight from O’Hare in January. Her illicit ride became a round trip jaunt when she was sent back here after authorities caught her wandering in the customs area at Heathrow Airport with no passport.

Thursday’s ruling does not end Hartman’s latest foray into the criminal justice system. She will be evaluated every 30 days, and if she is deemed fit for trial, her criminal proceedings will resume.

If she is not restored to fitness within a year, she could be found not guilty by reason of insanity, which could continue her stay in state custody for years.

Hartman’s 2015 mental health evaluation show that she is a Chicago native, who held down a job as a legal secretary and researcher from 1971 to 2003.

In the years since, she has struggled with homelessness, according to court records, which often have listed shelters as her addresses.

Hartman, in a lengthy 2015 profile in San Francisco magazine, told an interviewer she was the victim of a grand conspiracy that began in the 1990s after she complained about an attorney fixing cases. Paradoxically, she claimed her persecutors both allow her to sneak onto planes repeatedly, seek to punish her for the act, and also allow her to escape lengthy incarceration.

Roe-Taylor said that the mental health specialists determined that Hartman’s condition earlier this year was “different” than in 2015.

The defense attorney noted, however, that Hartman had rented an apartment in north suburban Grayslake and had gone two years without an arrest.

“She was making her way,” Roe-Taylor said. “She was beginning to start an independent life.”