Competency at issue in Circuit Court cases

Competency was questioned in Rappahannock Circuit Court last Thursday (Aug. 1), where Judge Jeffrey W. Parker denied one motion and approved another in two highly publicized rape cases.

The first case concerned a defendant’s competency to stand trial, and the second questioned a victim’s competency to testify in court.

Parker ordered a competency evaluation for 48-year-old Ray Anthony Williams of Huntly — facing 22 felony charges of rape, aggravated sexual battery and incest involving his underage daughter — to determine his competency to stand trial.

Williams appeared before the court in leg shackles and jail-issue pinstripe jumpsuit. His attorney, Amanda Zadrozny, requested that Parker order the evaluation. In reviewing discovery materials provided by the prosecution, Zadrozny said, she found Williams was determined to be mentally retarded during a parental evaluation conducted by Fauquier County Social Services two years ago.

“I don’t believe he understands the true gravity of his situation,” Zadrozny said of her client, adding that he asks “the same questions over and over again” and gives no signs of understanding her answers.

Parker said he is typically hesitant to declare motions for competency evaluations, since the defendant is usually found competent to stand trial — only delaying judicial progress — but in this case the evaluation was justified.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff said in court that the evaluation conducted in Fauquier declared that Williams had an IQ of 64, maturity issues and had problems grasping the gravity of losing his children.

“In this case, the motion was well made and approved, given what I’ve learned about the defendant’s mental capacity,” Goff said this week, speaking of the evaluation to be made within the next 60 days. “If he is not competent to stand trial, we’ll have to see what the doctor’s recommendations are for dealing with him.”

A hearing to address the findings of the evaluation is set for Oct. 3.

Darnell rape case

Karen A. Taylor of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office appeared in Circuit Court Thursday as special counsel for James D. Lee, a physician at Western State Hospital — moving to dismiss a subpoena requesting that Lee testify against his former patient, referred to only as L.T.

L.T. is the female victim of an alleged rape that occurred Nov. 14, 2010, which led to a charge of rape through force or threat against 37-year-old Bascom Darnell Jr. of Jeffersonton.

Zadrozny, who is also Darnell’s attorney, wants Dr. Lee to testify for the defense, to explain a 2012 Western State Hospital mental health report on the victim which she said diagnosed L.T. with schizophrenia and paranoid delusions. The psychiatric evaluation followed L.T.’s arrest in a neighboring county on an unrelated charge.

“We have information that [the victim] has a history of schizophrenia and paranoid delusions, that at times she thought a computer chip had been placed in her head and that televisions were watching her,” Zadrozny told the court, opposing Taylor’s motion to quash the subpoena.

“The issue in this case is consent, and her ability to accurately recall if she consented. Our information says that she recalls things that didn’t really happen. We believe she’s not remembering the evening accurately. We want Dr. Lee to explain his diagnosis, and explain the symptoms of schizophrenia, that she sees things and remembers things that never happened.”

Taylor responded that L.T. is not on trial, and that a psychiatric evaluation conducted at Western State two years after the alleged rape is irrelevant.

“This is a ‘fishing expedition’ against my client, because she carries a psychiatric diagnosis,” Taylor said, noting several prior cases involving confidentiality and seeking psychiatric records of rape victims, wherein the courts ruled to uphold doctor-patient confidentiality.

“Psychiatric records aren’t always important for evaluating credibility. Confidentiality would be compromised if Dr. Lee testifies, and his testimony may attack the victim’s credibility while also bringing out embarrassing and/or irrelevant data . . . I don’t want Dr. Lee to come before the court as a hostile witness against his own patient.”

Zadrozny responded that her questions to Lee during the trial will involve his diagnosis, about the symptoms of schizophrenia and whether or not the disease affects one’s ability to recall things as they occurred.

“We just want to ask broad questions about schizophrenia and Lee’s diagnosis,” Zadrozny said, in closing. “Since my client is facing a life sentence for this charge, he should have the opportunity to impeach the victim’s credibility, to prove she has a history of problems regarding her ability to recall. Justice would not be served if Dr. Lee’s testimony is not permitted.”

Parker concluded that the evidence presented in Dr. Lee’s report — as well as his testimony — is relevant to this case.

“This is a difficult decision,” Parker said before ruling on Taylor’s motion. “I have to consider the Sixth Amendment [the right to a fair and speedy trial] for the defendant, and the right to privacy for someone seeking medical treatment. But in this case, I believe a constitutional right outweighs a statutory right.”

Parker then read aloud from a legal text regarding the “competency of a witness,” wherein a defendant has the opportunity to impeach a witness’s credibility. Parker then denied the motion to quash the subpoena, meaning Dr. Lee will testify during Darnell’s jury trial scheduled to begin Sept. 19.