Patient Pleads Guilty to Killing

By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Vitali A. Davydov, a teenage schizophrenia patient, fatally beat a Rockville psychiatrist during an office visit in September after experiencing delusions that the doctor had asked to be killed, Montgomery County prosecutors said yesterday.

Davydov, of North Potomac, believed that Wayne S. Fenton, one of the world's leading experts in treating schizophrenia, wanted his soul freed from his body, prosecutors said. Davydov had delusions that several people, including Fenton, had been raped and needed to leave their bodies behind, said Montgomery State's Attorney John McCarthy.

The detailed account of Davydov's mental illness and the killing inside Fenton's office during an emergency appointment over Labor Day weekend unfolded yesterday in Montgomery Circuit Court, where Davydov pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

Judge Marielsa A. Bernard found Davydov not criminally responsible -- Maryland's version of legally insane -- after concluding that Davydov's severe mental illness prevented him from realizing he was committing a crime.

Bernard ordered Davydov, now 20, committed to the state's Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup until he is no longer considered dangerous. McCarthy said he expected him to remain at the maximum security hospital "for a very long time."

Davydov stared into space with his hands stuffed in the pockets of a gray sweat suit jacket as McCarthy described how the then-19-year-old beat Fenton with his bare hands, causing fatal brain injuries.

He left the psychiatrist lying on a bloody oriental rug near a black leather couch before walking out, his hands covered in blood, to meet his father in the parking lot at Old Georgetown Road and Tilden Lane in Bethesda. Albert Davydov had brought his son to Fenton for an emergency appointment Sept. 3 because he was refusing to take his medication and growing increasingly delusional, McCarthy said.

Fenton, 53, was associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health and treated severely mentally ill patients at his private office. Davydov, who had been treated by several other doctors for about seven months, told state psychiatrists that Fenton asked him to kill him during their first appointment, Sept. 2, McCarthy said.

In the office Sept. 3, Davydov told state doctors, he asked Fenton, "Do you really want me to kill you?" Then he heard a voice say, "I want you to kill me."

Defense attorney Barry H. Helfand said his client is now on three medications. Davydov, wearing a crew cut and glasses, slurred his words and mumbled a flat "yeah" to standard questions to determine that he understood his guilty plea.

The small courtroom held none of the raw emotion surrounding plea hearings in many murder cases. Instead, the judge, lawyers and a few onlookers gazed sadly upon Davydov.

Fenton's wife, Nancy, and four children, ranging from the late teens to mid-20s, did not attend the hearing. McCarthy said they requested it be held while they were out of town so they would not have to relive the case through media attention.

The only relative in court was Albert Davydov, who sat quietly in the front row as prosecutors played a tape of his call to 911 from the office parking lot, reporting that his son had attacked the doctor.

Outside the courtroom, the 46-year-old scientist apologized to Fenton's family.

"I can't imagine what they're going through," he said softly, his voice laced with a Russian accent. "Also, I'd like to support my son and go through this with him and get him better. I'm his father."

A unit opening in June at a Sheppard Pratt psychiatric hospital in Ellicott City will be named in Fenton's honor, a spokeswoman said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company