Upon hearing testimony from two psychiatrists who evaluated the third defendant charged with the January murder of Alexandria Yellow Cab driver Khalil Siddiqi, Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Donald M. Haddock Thursday ruled the 17-year-old Alexandria male legally incompetent to stand trial.
The ruling means that the case remains in limbo until at least November, when the defendant, who accompanied guilty parties Jamal Berry and Joshua Moore on the night of the murder, is scheduled to return to court for another competency hearing.
The minor is being held at Alexandrias Juvenile Detention Center while he undergoes restoration services in hopes of improving his ability to assist in his defense and fully comprehend the court proceedings.
Though 16 years old at the time of the crime on January 17, the gravity of the felony charges led the defendant to be indicted as an adult as mandated by Virginia code on April 14 for first-degree murder, robbery and two weapons charges.
The other two defendants in the case, Berry and Moore, pled guilty and received their sentences on August 27. Berry, 20, an Alexandria resident, received 18 years in prison and Moore, identified as the shooter in the case, was ordered to spend 36 years in prison.
Thursdays hearing was a discussion colored in shades of gray, save for the reality of the charges facing the 17-year-old and their consequences.
Melinda Douglas, the defendants attorney, first raised the issue of her clients competence less than two weeks before he was set to stand trial in June, prompting the court to commission the psychological evaluations.
The two psychiatrists, Dr. William Stejskl and Dr. Anita Boss, both wrote in their original reports that they did not find the defendant to be competent. The 17-year-old already had a lengthy, well-documented record of very severe learning disabilities, particularly with expressive and receptive language both integral to an individuals ability to understand whats going on around them, Boss said.
Assistant Commonwealths Attorney Bryan Porter said that the court did not dispute the 17-year-olds learning issues, which date back to his earliest schooling, according to testimony, but did question how those affected his competence for trial.
During his testimony, Stejskl was asked if the minors instances of charming or aggressive behavior could be considered manipulative or strategic, but he dismissed it as not that sort of higher cognitive skill.
Although it could be used in a calculated way, he also used it in a reactionary way, Stejskl said, suggesting that the minor was not always cognizant of how his actions came across to interviewers.
Boss had reported what she perceived as suspicion from the defendant during certain parts of the evaluation process during which he exhibited clear elements of intentional evasiveness but also showed difficulty grasping the concepts of guilty and not guilty.
Overall, the evaluators raised several instances for which the implications remained unclear until Haddocks decision.
On a portion of a test in which Boss read legal and case-related multiple-choice questions to the defendant, she testified that he only answered one of 25 questions correctly. Had he been picking answers randomly, she said, he would have been expected to answer seven to nine correctly, suggesting to her that he may have been intentionally answering incorrectly.
Over the three parts of that test, the 17-year-old scored a 12 out of 50, about half of what a mentally retarded person might score, Boss said, also making the distinction that incompetence did not equate to mental retardation.
Although she said cases vary, when asked about an individuals competence being relative to certain scenarios, Boss said, I would like to think that when someone is competent they are competent.
In this case, the defendant has long displayed deficiencies in the language skills necessary to be legally competent, though he has performed better in other academic areas, Boss said.
Should the 17-year-old be found incompetent again in November, the process will continue with further restorative educational services being provided. According to Porter, the process of competency evaluations could last up to five years before a final decision has to be reached.