An Arlington Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that Daniel R. Kfoury is competent to stand trial on charges that he killed his housemate, Robert C. Bloom, during what Kfoury described as an "exorcism."
After listening to a two-hour videotape in which Kfoury described hitting Bloom in an effort to "deliver him from the demonic spirits," and after hearing conflicting testimony from four psychiatrists about Kfoury's mental state, Judge Paul F. Sheridan concluded that he "is competent to understand the proceedings against him . . . . He really understands what's going on here."
Bloom, 27, was found dead in the basement apartment of 4907 N. Washington Blvd., where he and Kfoury lived, on Oct. 28. Medical examiners determined that Bloom died of asphyxiation. Kfoury was charged with first-degree murder.
In the taped statement played in court on Monday, Kfoury demonstrated how he held Bloom for nearly seven hours and hit him on the back between 100 and 200 times "to cast out the demons."
"I liked Robert a lot," he told detectives. "It hurt my heart to see a man so bound by demons. They were hurting me; they were hurting Robert. They wanted to destroy us."
During the two-day competency hearing, defense attorney Frank Ceresi argued that Kfoury's statements to police should not be admissible in the trial.
Sheridan delayed ruling on the statements' admissibility, saying his decision will rest on the question of "whether this man made a voluntary, rational and knowing waiver of his right to silence."
Kfoury, 30, told police he had met Bloom at the Five Fold Ministry, a small charismatic Christian group that meets in the basement of an apartment building in the Seven Corners area.
The Rev. Nathan Robinson, pastor of the 100-member congregation, said in an interview shortly after Bloom's death that the Five Fold Ministry holds services that involve speaking in tongues and prayers for deliverance but does not practice or teach exorcism.
Kfoury told homicide detectives he was raised as a Catholic but did not practice the religion. "It was just a name," he said in the taped statement.
Park E. Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist who testified for the defense, said Kfoury's "obsession with demonology" began sometime in 1985, although Kfoury had had bouts of depression and other symptoms of mental illness for about 10 years.
He said Kfoury did not completely understand the implications of his decision to talk to police.
"Anyone having the full explanation [of the incident], he thought, would know that not only had he done nothing wrong or criminal, but something valorous in the service of God," Dietz said. "I think he was amazed when they arrested him."
Ceresi said Kfoury "didn't have the ability to weigh the alternatives to disclose or not to disclose because of the mental illness."
Two doctors from Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Va., testifying for the prosecution, said Kfoury was not under any delusions when he spoke to police.
Commonwealth's Attorney Henry E. Hudson, citing their testimony, argued that the statements were voluntary and should be admissible.
"A majority of people who talk to a police officer think they'll either exculpate themselves or diminish the responsibility they have for an act. In that sense, Mr. Kfoury is no different from anyone else," Hudson said.
Sheridan is expected to rule on the statements' admissibility this week.