When Alexandria Commonwealth Attorney S. Randolph Sengel arrived at his office at 6:45 a.m. on Feb. 25, he wasn't expecting the e-mail he received.
There in Sengel's in-box was an e-mail from a court-appointed doctor whom the Commonwealth Attorney's office had hoped could provide evidence that Greg Murphy was competent to stand trial for the 2000 murder of Kevin Shifflett, 8. In December, Dr. Evan Nelson of Midlothian submitted a report that declared his opinion: Murphy was competent to stand trial. But after defense counsel raised objections that the defendant was not being cooperative, Nelson met with Murphy and counsel on Feb. 8.
"Without a doubt, Mr. Murphy's performance at this meeting was far below what I had experienced in our one-on-one meetings," wrote Nelson. "He was passive, evasive about answering questions, and kept looking for excuses to terminate the meeting and flee a situation he did not like."
Questions lingered in Nelson's mind, and another meeting was scheduled. On Feb. 24, the doctor interviewed Murphy at the Alexandria Detention Center for almost three hours. It was after this meeting that Nelson changed his opinion and concluded that Murphy was incompetent to stand trial.
"Pressed about why he was so uncooperative at the meeting with his attorneys and me, he gave lame excuses rather than saying what was self evident, that he did not trust the lawyers," wrote Nelson. "In his world, I have been cast as a friend and his attorneys as enemies. I submit that his problem relating to his lawyers does grow from these deficits, not simply a rational choice, and to that degree represented a deficit in his ability to relate effectively to counsel."
The doctor wrote this evaluation well into the evening, and finally sent it as an e-mail to the commonwealth attorney's office after midnight. About six hours later, Sengel learned that the doctor had changed his opinion.
<b>THE SCHEDULED</b> 10 a.m. competency hearing was delayed by several conferences between the prosecution, the defense and the judge. Finally, after a 30-minute delay, the hearing began. Murphy was led into the room wearing an oversized drab jumpsuit and chains. He carried a yellow folder and acknowledged someone sitting in the back row of the court. The competency hearing lasted eight minutes, and Murphy did not react to being ruled incompetent.
"At this point," Sengel told Judge Alfred D. Swersky, "the commonwealth has no evidence to offer on the issue of competence in this hearing."
The prosecution's case had evaporated, and five court-appointed mental-health professionals now agreed that the defendant was incompetent to stand trial. Murphy's paranoid delusions have kept him at Central State Hospital in Petersburg for more than four years, and the judge's ruling that Murphy is incompetent to stand trial was another setback to many in Alexandria who would like to see Murphy face prosecution.
Until at least one court-appointed mental-health professional concludes Murphy is competent to stand trial, the 2000 murder of Kevin Shifflett, the Alexandria boy who was stabbed 18 times, will remain unresolved.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge set another hearing for June 2. This schedule follows the practice of reviewing the status of suspects incompetent to stand trial every six months.