When the elevator door opened to the ground-floor lobby of the probation office on Jan. 9, Kareem Timmons probably didn’t know what was about to happen. Family and friends say that the 29-year-old went to the office with his friend and colleague Derrick Wright to obtain the necessary paperwork for a federal glass-installation contract.
But as Timmons stepped out of the elevator, police officials say, Wright snapped and attacked his friend — pushing him to the ground and beating him to death by violently kicking his head.
In a brief court hearing last week, General District Court Judge Becky Moore ruled that Wright, 28, is competent to stand trial and scheduled a preliminary hearing for next month. Frank Aschmann, a court-appointed lawyer who is representing Wright, made no effort to argue that his client was unable to work with counsel.
"When I first met him he was lying naked in the middle of his jail cell, and he refused to talk to me," said Aschmann outside the General District Court after the hearing last week. "Since that time, he’s made significant improvements, and he now seems to be able to work with me."
After two clinical interviews conducted last month, court-appointed psychologist Martin Bauer offered his professional opinion that Wright was competent to stand trial in a seven-page letter to court officials. His report, now part of the case file, was so unequivocal that Aschmann made no attempt to dispute its core conclusion that Wright was ready to face the justice system.
"Mr. Wright clearly has the capacity to coherently discuss and weigh his legal options and otherwise rationally collaborate with any attorney in his own defense at this time," Bauer wrote in the March 27 report. "He was able to relate his own version of relevant alleged circumstances in a coherent and rational manner."
COURT RECORDS show that Wright had a troubled childhood, one in which he suffered from persistent neglect and a lack of stability. A native of Alexandria, Wright is the second oldest of eight children. According to one document, he did not even meet his father until he was 14. Records show that he bounced from home to home as a child, living with his grandparents, then his mother — whose boyfriend physically abused him when he was between the ages of 16 to 18. Ultimately, he was handed over to the Department of Social Services.
"His self-report and the available court records conflict on whether or not he has completed a G.E.D. to date," Bauer wrote in the report. "Mr. Wright reported that he received some kind of special-education services between 5th and 10th grades after failing 5th grade, but he could not recall now specific learning disability diagnosis as a child."
After years of being suspended for behavioral problems, he dropped out of school before finishing the 11th grade. Court records show that he has spent a majority of his life functionally homeless, living with girlfriends, acquaintances and occasionally area shelters. He took a number of short-term employment positions in construction and glass repair. In 2002, he obtained a certificate to work as a glazier and tried to put together his own business.
"Glass was his hobby," said Arvita Wright, his sister. "He was obsessed with it."
WRIGHT’S FIRST psychotic episode happened in January 1997, when his mother became concerned when he came home in an LSD-induced stupor barking like a dog. She took him to the Inova Alexandria Hospital, where he was treated with psychotropic drugs and released within 10 days. But court records show that he had many other psychotic episodes as well as regular use of PCP, cocaine and marijuana. According to his sister, Wright and Timmons had a close relationship that included working for the glass-installation company and smoking "dippers" — cigarettes laced with PCP.
"I call it the devil’s drug," said Arvita Wright. "It was Derrick’s only downfall."
She said that the two would remain sober while installing glass, then abuse the illegal drug on a daily basis. Unfortunately, she said, taking PCP may have triggered a reaction in her brother that prompted his violent outburst on Jan. 9. Court records show that Derrick Wright was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1998 and prescribed the psychotropic drug Zyprex. But Arvita Wright said that her brother refused to take the medication because it made him sluggish, substituting illegal drugs in place of the prescription medication.
"I don’t think he understood what was happening to him," she said. "But he kept telling me that he had everything under control."