ROCKVILLE, Md. – On a medium-security wing at a state mental hospital, El Soundani El-Wahhabi befriended the woman in the room three doors down who, like him, was committed there after a murder trial. He's now accused of killing her.
Video shows the two chatting in a common area on Saturday night, and him later entering her room for a few minutes not long before their bed check, according to court documents released Monday. Inside the room, El-Wahhabi told police that he kissed the woman, then put a string around her neck and pulled it tight.
El-Wahhabi, also known as Saladin Taylor, told police in the interview that he and 45-year-old Susan Sachs struggled until she stopped breathing, the documents state. He has been charged with first- and second-degree murder and is being held at the Howard County Detention Center, according to Lt. Col. William M. Pallozzi of the Maryland State Police.
Sachs and El-Wahhabi were described as friends in interviews with police, according to court documents. Later, after Sachs went to her room for the night, the video shows El-Wahhabi entering her room before 11 p.m., then leaving minutes later and stopping at the bathroom on the way to his room.
Sachs' roommate at the Clifton T. Perkins State hospital in Jessup did not notice anything amiss when she entered their room late about a half hour later, police said. But in the morning, the roommate alerted the head nurse, who found Sachs face down in her bed with a long shoe lace around her neck.
Police said a check of El-Wahhabi's criminal and psychological history included other violence against women.
El-Wahhabi pleaded not criminally responsible to a charge of first-degree murder in the 1995 slaying of a woman in the rowhouse where he lived, and he was committed to Perkins, according to online court records.
A 1995 article in The Baltimore Sun said detectives found a quarter-sized piece of his tongue that they believe was bitten off during a struggle with the victim. El-Wahhabi said he had hurt himself outside his home and left a piece of his tongue on the street.
Betty Taylor, El-Wahhabi's mother, said in a brief telephone interview with The Associated Press on Monday that she didn't feel comfortable discussing the charges against her son because she didn't know all the facts about the case. She said she visited her son regularly.
"We have a very good relationship, always have," Taylor said.
Sachs was also committed to Perkins after a trial on a murder charge, according to court records. She was charged with fatally stabbing her 71-year-old landlady in Chevy Chase while she slept in 2004. Two men who helped her hide the body pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison time.
Most of the 218-bed forensic hospital is maximum security, but Sachs and El-Wahhabi lived in a medium-security area, Pallozzi said. Rooms in that area are locked, but push-button controls allow patients to let people in. Nurses also can operate the door locks.
There is an 11:30 p.m. bed check and patients are not allowed to have people of the opposite sex in their rooms, he said. Investigators are still trying to determine how El-Wahhabi got into Sachs' room.
A small police force at the hospital investigate minor crimes, but state police are called in for more serious offenses. Pallozzi said state police had only been called to Perkins two other times in the last five years, for a minor assault and a harassment case.
State records show 26 patients were injured in 100 patient-to-patient attacks at Perkins in 2008, in 2009 those figures rose to 46 patients hurt in 129 attacks.
Associated Press writer Ben Nuckols in Baltimore contributed to this report.