By Julie A. Taylor
Judge Jeffrey Parker granted Judy Deal another six months of analysis to determine whether she was mentally competent to stand trial for the alleged first-degree murder of her estranged husband.
Three witnesses spoke about Deal’s mental capacity Monday at a hearing in Fauquier County Circuit Court. All three agreed that, as yet, she was not mentally capable to defend herself in court. Even after the experts gave their testimonies, no one is sure whether the damage to Deal’s brain is as bad as it seems, or whether she is exaggerating her condition to avoid trial.
Deal allegedly shot her husband, John M. Deal, 60, in the torso at his home on Crest Hill Road on Nov. 20, 2011, according to a search warrant. She then turned the gun on herself. Even though the bullet went through her brain, she survived.
The unique nature of the case creates challenges for prosecutors on how to move the case forward, as an alleged murder followed by a bungled suicide is extremely rare.
Attorneys haven’t even started questioning her mental state at the time of the alleged shooting.
The strongest testimony at the Monday hearing was provided by Scott Bender, associate professor of neuropsychology at the University of Virginia, who previously evaluated Deal. His tests were the only ones to use empirical data.
Bender said Deal failed a validity test, which indicated she may have been faking her inability to answer simple questions, such as what the judge’s role is. Defense attorney Blair Howard argued that Deal was battling extreme paranoia, and since she was shackled throughout the test, her answers were skewed.
Bender disagreed that Deal was paranoid, but Angela Torres, formerly the chief forensic coordinator at Central State Hospital where Deal lives, said the paranoia is real, and could be a factor keeping her from giving a good testimony.
However, when Commonwealth’s Attorney James Fisher asked whether Torres believed Deal was faking her inability to recover, Torres said, “Her response style was a concern.”
Part of Torres’ evaluation was to discern whether Deal knew how the court system worked. When asked if she realized that she was accused of doing something bad, she pantomimed the shape of a gun. Deal understood guilty, and not guilty, but thought a plea bargain involved a dress. Torres later made the connection that Deal’s classroom visual aid for plea bargain was a picture of a dress on sale.
Brianna Moore, who provides Deal with restoration classes at Central State Hospital, agreed that she shouldn’t go on the stand. Moore has met with Deal for the last 15 months and sees progress on a regular basis. However, on a couple occasions, two weeks passed between meetings and, “Ms. Deal forgot 99 percent of the information we had gone over.”
Torres believes “someone can intentionally exaggerate problems while simultaneously being incapable to stand trial.”
All witnesses also agreed that because of Deal’s mental state being influenced by a brain injury, Bender, the only neuropsychologist of the group, was the most authoritative source of her abilities.
“This has been a difficult case,” said Bender. “How impaired is she?” His recommendation, to which Parker agreed, was to send Deal to Western State Hospital under the care of neuropsychologist Beth Caillouet.
The decision was similar to past judgments, but Fisher argued that past methods were inappropriate. “They didn’t bring the right tools to the construction job.”