Alexandria’s ‘werewolf killer:’ A deeper dive

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Alexandria’s ‘werewolf killer:’ A deeper dive
(File Photo)
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By Olivia Anderson | [email protected]

A man who killed a stranger in Old Town several years ago while having a mental break – during which he thought the stranger was a werewolf – has recently been ordered to stay off of social media. Following a conditional release from a mental health facility earlier this summer, his online dating profile sparked concerns.

On July 13 2018, Pankaj Bhasin, 34, stabbed Bradford Jackson, 65, more than 50 times in Window Universe on King Street, breaking his neck in the process. Bhasin, who was from New Jersey, was discovered naked in a car nearby and arrested for the slaying.

A year later, Bhasin was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He spent the past three years in the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute and was released earlier this year. Upon release, Bhasin created a Facebook page and dating profile where he claimed to have just returned from traveling.

“An easy going adventurer who believes in universal connection with all and love to explore n try new things. Also, recently getting back from two years of travel,” his dating profile bio read.

Bhasin’s profile also stated that he enjoys “travel, kayaking, dancing, photography, camping, reading, concerts n all things fun.” It also read that he is fully vaccinated and an “ENFP-A” personality type.

Soon after it was posted, several women and prosecutors came across the dating profile. Sarah Bryen, a friend of Jackson’s, was one of the first people to see the profile, which she said completely stunned her.

“How do you even react? It’s crazy,” Bryen said. “Dating online is pretty much scary enough as it is … this just goes to show I guess you don’t know who anyone really is.”

Bryen told the Times that when someone sent her the profile, she felt an immediate duty to post it as a public service to others.

“I just felt obligated,” Bryen said. “Just from my perspective, I know that I wouldn’t want to meet that person or have any of my friends meet that person.”

Pankaj Bhasin (Photo Courtesy of Alexandria Sheriff’s Office)

The ‘how’

In the state of Virginia, when someone is acquitted for a crime with the insanity defense, there is no middle ground of criminal culpability; the acquittee is found not guilty and instead enters the state mental health process.

According to the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, the definition of legal insanity states that “a person accused of a crime can acknowledge that they committed the crime, but argue that they are not responsible for it because of a mental illness or a ‘mental defect.’”

Although not written directly into state code, case law has developed an insanity test to determine whether the defendant was in fact insane at the time of the offense. The test states that as a result of a mental disease or effect, the defendant did not understand the nature, character and consequences of his or her act; or was unable to distinguish between right from wrong; or was unable to resist the impulse to commit the act.

Because Bhasin was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2019 following a mistrial on a hung jury, he bears no responsibility for the slaying and cannot be punished in any way. At the time, five mental health professionals and two expert witnesses testified about Bhasin’s severe bipolar disorder and psychosis, leading to the conclusion that Bhasin met the definition of legal insanity.

Bhasin spent the past three years in the Northern Virginia Mental Health Facility, after which he was granted conditional release for his progress. NVMHF did not respond to the Times’ multiple requests for comment.

According to state code, a DBHDS commissioner may petition the court for conditional or unconditional release at any time they believe the acquittee no longer needs hospitalization.

The court then orders the commissioner to appoint two evaluators to review the acquittee’s condition and potential need for inpatient hospitalization. Finally, the court holds a hearing in which possible evidence and cross-examinations take place.

“At the conclusion of the hearing, based upon the report and other evidence provided at the hearing, the court shall order the acquittee (i) released from confinement if he does not need inpatient hospitalization and does not meet the criteria for conditional release … (ii) placed on conditional release if he meets the criteria for such release … or iii) retained in the custody of the Commissioner if he continues to require inpatient hospitalization based on consideration of the factors,” the code reads. 

The Alexandria Court granted Bhasin conditional release several months ago, with a conditional release plan prepared by the hospital, community services board and behavioral health authority. Following his release, Bhasin’s attorney Peter Greenspun said in a statement to the Times that Bhasin “worked exceedingly hard throughout his treatment” and is doing “extremely well.”

“None of this diminishes in any manner the tragedy of the death of Bradford Jackson and the overwhelming loss to his many family members and friends,” Greenspun said. “Mr. Bhasin has expressed his remorse for Mr. Jackson and those who knew him in every setting possible, including in his treatment. While those expressions may, understandably, not be enough for those who are suffering, it is sincere and constant, and has been an important part of his recovery.”

But Bryen criticized both Greenspun’s statement and the amount of time Bhasin spent in the mental health facility, arguing that it was much too short.

“I don’t think you can be ‘remorseful’ and then move on with your life by deliberately deceiving people,” Bryen said. “ … For someone to do that and be out in just a couple years, and someone [else] does a small drug crime and has a much longer sentence – I just don’t feel like this has actually been handled right.”

Commonwealth’s attorney Bryan Porter filed a motion earlier this month requesting that the judge amend Bhasin’s terms of release.

“In this case, because the acquittee may be meeting potential romantic partners while not only concealing but actively lying about his recent history, those individuals may be out at risk during a period of time when the acquitted is first transitioning to the community,” the motion reads.

The judge agreed with prosecutors, ordering Bhasin to take down his social media accounts while on conditional release. He is, however, permitted to use LinkedIn while searching for a job.

According to Porter, Bhasin will be evaluated in court every six months on the progress of his conditional release.

Porter emphasized that his office held the position that Bhasin was criminally responsible for the offense and opposed any release given the “relatively small” amount of time that had passed between the offense and his release.

“However, we respect the court’s decision and we continue to monitor the acquittee’s compliance with the terms of his conditional release in an effort to do our best to ensure public safety,” Porter said.

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