Four days before Christmas, Dec. 20, 2001, Saeed Deria, 28, was asleep in his apartment in Chantilly's Rockland Village community when he was fatally stabbed.
A YEAR later, on Jan. 22, 2002, a Fairfax County grand jury indicted his brother, Ahmed Deria of Franconia, for murder. Soon afterward, though, the wheels of justice stopped churning toward his conviction because of serious questions about his mental capacity.
Four years have passed since then, and Deria's been in Central State Hospital all that time while doctors try to restore him to sanity. But whether that's possible remains to be seen.
"We had another [competency] hearing in late October, based on Central State saying he's not only incompetent, but irrestorably so," said Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. "And a doctor testified to this in Circuit Court before Judge [Stanley] Klein."
The murder happened around 5 a.m., and the Chantilly man died six hours later, around 11 a.m., at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Cause of death was a single stab wound to his upper body. No motive for the slaying was ever revealed.
Ahmed Deria lived at 6004 Burdon Court in the Kingstowne section of Franconia, but was visiting Saeed when the tragedy occurred. Then, after his arrest, Ahmed began behaving bizarrely in the Adult Detention Center.
He had visual and auditory hallucinations and, making matters worse, he refused to take medication or wear clothes. His actions so alarmed the authorities that he was given a psychiatric examination and was found incompetent.
Concerned that Deria might endanger himself and/or others at the jail, the county transferred him, Feb. 13, 2002, to Central State for mental evaluation and treatment.
Dr. Eugene Gourley, a clinical psychologist who examined him there, testified at Deria's May 24, 2002 competency hearing in Circuit Court that no one knew, yet, if Deria was retarded or simply lacked the education to understand what was happening to him.
He explained that Deria had difficulty reasoning and comprehending the court process. Gourley said he "seemed to understand what he was charged with, but [not] the seriousness of it or of the consequences."
According to the doctor, Deria's psychiatric and medical history appeared to be consistent with schizophrenia. He also noted that a childhood head trauma caused Deria problems with thinking and memory.
Then came the bombshell: Gourley said Deria had stabbed the same brother, a few years earlier, in California, but the doctor didn't know if he'd been punished for it legally. He said Deria told him the authorities "let him go." He also emphasized that Deria needed continued treatment and medication to keep from becoming violent and aggressive.
Judge Jonathan Thacher then ordered Deria returned to Central State for further psychiatric treatment and assessment. After later updates on his mental condition — which hadn't improved significantly — the same thing happened when Deria returned to court, Nov. 8, 2002, and again on Jan. 7, 2004, as well as in October 2004 and October 2005.
Meanwhile, Deria is now 34 and the criminal case against him remains in limbo. And when another doctor testified about Deria's condition during his most recent hearing, said Horan, "I objected to his making a decision on Deria's [mental status] at that time because the statute says the director of the institution needs to make this certification."
So Judge Klein sent a letter to the hospital's director to obtain his opinion. And just before Christmas, said Horan, Klein received the director's reply, which was the same as the doctor's.
"So we'll set a court date to have [the director] say this in court," said Horan. "Deria will then receive a civil commitment." Once that happens, Deria will then be given annual reviews to see if he's competent for release.
What's more, said Horan, since it wouldn't be a criminal commitment, "[Deria] could only be held until it's been determined that he's safe and sane. And if he's not tried [for his brother's murder] by December of 2006, then the charge will be dismissed."
And, he added, there's yet another complication. "It came out at the hearing that they don't have an interpreter [at the hospital] who speaks his language [Somalian], so I also objected based on that," said Horan. After all, he wondered, if no one understands Deria, "How do they know if he's sane or not?"