- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2001

RICHMOND — Lawyers for the man accused of fatally stabbing 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett in Alexandria last year asked the Virginia Supreme Court yesterday to stop state physicians from forcibly medicating their client.
The attorneys claim medicating Gregory Devon Murphy against his will violates his constitutional rights. They also argued that Alexandria Circuit Judge Alfred D. Swersky did not have the authority to order doctors to treat Murphy without first giving Murphy a due-process hearing.
"Judge Swersky denied Mr. Murphy's fundamental liberty interest," said Joseph Bowman, one of Murphy's attorneys who appeared in court yesterday. "There is nothing in the state law that authorizes a state judge to prescribe what kind of treatment should be administered on a defendant. The law needs to be amended."
Deputy Attorney General Ashley L. Taylor Jr., who represented the state, defended Judge Swersky's ruling, saying the judge followed state law, which allows courts to order treatment if a defendant is found mentally incompetent.
Mr. Taylor also claimed Judge Swersky did not decide on his own what kind of treatment should be administered to Murphy. The judge only approved requests by doctors who recommended that Murphy should be treated, Mr. Taylor said.
"These decisions were made by medical experts," Mr. Taylor argued before the panel yesterday afternoon. "There is no constitutional right to remain psychotic and reject medically appropriate treatment just so a defendant can avoid going to trial."
The seven-judge panel could rule on the case as early as next month. Murphy, 30, was twice deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial in Kevin's slaying since last fall, when he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Since April, Murphy has been undergoing a state-ordered drug treatment for the mental illness to restore his competency so he could stand trial for Kevin's slaying.
Murphy is being held at Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Va., where he continues to be treated for his illness. The latest court hearings have not suspended his treatment.
Murphy is charged with stabbing Kevin to death in the middle of the afternoon as the boy played in his great-grandparents' front yard in Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood on April 19, 2000.
He was arrested in October after an Alexandria grand jury indicted him on a charge of capital murder in Kevin's slaying and two counts of malicious wounding in knife attacks on two women who tried to protect the boy. If convicted, Murphy could face the death penalty.
Much of the 40-minute hearing yesterday focused on whether Judge Swersky had the authority to order doctors to treat Murphy's illness, and whether state law gives courts the right to order how a mentally incompetent defendant would be treated.
"Can you say where the law allows a court to order what kind of treatment should be given?" Justice Elizabeth B. Lacy asked Mr. Taylor.
The law states that courts "shall order that the defendant receive treatment to restore his competency." But it does not allow judges to determine what type of treatment should be given. Mr. Taylor argued that Judge Swersky held a hearing April 3, during which several of Murphy's doctors provided testimony on Murphy's mental condition. In the end, the judge made the ruling based on medical testimony, Mr. Taylor said.
"Judge Swersky went the extra mile in this case," Mr. Taylor said. "He brought in medical experts, heard seven hours of testimony. He acted properly in this case."
Mr. Taylor also argued that the public's safety is endangered because if Murphy is not brought to competency in five years, then the capital murder charge will be dropped and he could be released.
Mr. Bowman claimed in his arguments that Judge Swersky did not have the authority to hold the April 3 hearing and therefore was not allowed to issue the ruling.
"He did not have jurisdiction to make those inquiries," Mr. Bowman argued.
A competency hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 13 in Alexandria Circuit Court. Under the law, a defendant found to be mentally incompetent is required to have his case reviewed every six months.
If Murphy is ever able to stand trial, his attorneys have hinted they could pursue an insanity defense.

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