- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

An Alexandria, Va., judge yesterday ruled that the man charged with stabbing an 8-year-old boy to death in April is incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to undergo treatment until he is fit to assist in his own defense.

Gregory D. Murphy, 29, will be sent to a state mental facility likely Central State Hospital in Petersburg where he will receive medication and counseling.

Doctors will monitor his condition to see whether it improves enough that he can be tried on a capital-murder charge for the slaying of Kevin Shifflett as the boy played in his great-grandparents' front yard in Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood on April 19.

An Alexandria grand jury last month indicted Murphy on a charge of capital murder and two counts of malicious wounding in Kevin's slaying and the knife attacks on two women who tried to protect the boy. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

A report written by a forensic psychologist with the University of Virginia describes Murphy as a man suffering from paranoia, delusions and auditory hallucinations, among other disorders.

Murphy's writings "reflect what appear to be unrealistic and persecutory concerns about a 'machine' that has been hooked up to the defendant his whole life," William Stejskal wrote in a psychological evaluation released yesterday afternoon.

"His beliefs about 'the machine' (a government-run device or network involving constant surveillance and control of his actions and circumstances) seem entrenched and all encompassing," Mr. Stejskal wrote.

Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Alfred Swersky's ruling sets the stage for what could be a long legal battle just to get Murphy a convicted felon with a history of violence into court.

Defense attorney Joseph N. Bowman said the trial scheduled for Feb. 5 will probably be delayed, but Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel said he expects it to begin on time.

They agreed, however, that Murphy is not competent to be tried.

At issue are the complicated legal questions of how and when doctors test and medicate Murphy a decision that will be made by doctors with the Virginia Department of Mental Health, which operates Central State Hospital and eight other mental health facilities.

Central State Hospital typically handles tests for sanity and competency on criminal suspects. If Murphy goes there, he will be housed in the hospital's maximum-security unit.

Murphy will likely receive an initial evaluation when he arrives at the hospital, after which doctors will have a better idea of what kind of medication and tests to give him. Depending on his behavior, he may receive medication when he arrives.

But Mr. Bowman said medicating Murphy could affect the results of neurological tests, and may show him to be competent and sane.

Judge Swersky denied Mr. Bowman's request that the hospital stay be delayed so his doctors could perform tests, but said the defense's medical team can do its own tests on Murphy while he's at the hospital.

The hospital's doctors have up to six months to determine whether Murphy is competent.

If Murphy's condition does not improve, doctors must tell the court as soon as possible.

But if they find Murphy is competent to stand trial after he receives medication and counseling, he will return for another hearing, at which the lawyers will present arguments on how to proceed.

What happens in the next few months could affect whether Mr. Bowman uses an insanity defense, which argues a defendant didn't know he was doing something wrong by committing a crime.

Mr. Bowman hinted yesterday that he might use an insanity defense.

After the hearing, he told reporters Murphy may have "organic problems" or "brain damage."

Judge Swersky yesterday also rejected requests for a still camera and a television camera to be in the courtroom for Murphy's trial.

The judge said he was concerned the cameras could affect security, witnesses and jurors in an already heavily publicized case.

Murphy has had verbal and physical outbursts in the court.

He knocked out court-appointed defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro during a hearing last month, sending him to the hospital with a concussion. Mr. Shapiro has since been dismissed from the case.

Murphy also has demanded he be represented by a white female lawyer and a black female lawyer.

Judge Swersky did not address Murphy's request for more lawyers during yesterday's hearing, but Mr. Bowman told reporters one to three or more lawyers could join him as early as today.

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