Man charged in Chevy Chase arson pleads not criminally responsible -- Gazette.Net


A man accused of starting a fire in a Chevy Chase apartment building in May pleaded not criminally responsible in court this week, postponing his trial pending a mental evaluation.

Abraham O. Kiflu, 25, sat silently in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Friday as his defense attorney, Tony Graham Sr., asked Judge Ronald B. Rubin to allow him additional time to hire a mental health professional to evaluate Kiflu's state of mind. Kiflu was charged with first-degree arson and reckless endangerment after he turned himself into police and fire officials following a May 1 fire that consumed much of the apartment building he lived in with his parents.

"He was acting erratically," Graham told Rubin. "I'm still communicating with the parents and getting them to raise the money for a psychiatrist to evaluate him."

Kiflu, who originally pleaded not guilty to his charges in June, filed a motion to change his plea to not criminally responsible Wednesday, according to court records.

Graham also cast doubt on his client's ability to stand trial, requesting time for a professional from the Clifton T. Perkins Mental Health Hospital to evaluate him. Kiflu is currently being held in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds, Graham said after Friday's hearing.

County Assistant State's Attorney Sherri D. Koch did not object to Graham's motions, asking Rubin to postpone Kiflu's trial from Nov. 26 until the evaluations could be completed. Rubin granted both motions, scheduling a status hearing in the case for Nov. 5 to discuss potential motions following Kiflu's evaluations.

Graham was unable to discuss the case fully following Friday's pretrial hearing, citing the uncertain outcome of his client's evaluations. Police reported that Kiflu confessed his role in the arson to fire marshals after turning himself into police shortly after the fire.

"That is what was alleged, but again we won't be in a position to explore the facts of the case until after we're in a position to file motions in the case following an evaluation of [my client]," Graham said.

The fire began just after 2 p.m. in the top floor of the Round Hill apartment building in the 2700 block of Terrace Drive on May 1, causing more than $1 million in damages and displacing close to 100 residents, according to fire officials and representatives of the county chapter of the Red Cross. At least 34 units were damaged in the blaze, fire officials stated.