Prosecutors can have a second opinion on whether Gregory D. Murphy is competent to stand trial in the April 19, 2000, stabbing death of 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett, an Alexandria judge has ruled.
Judge Alfred D. Swersky, in a letter dated Wednesday, asked the prosecution and defense to each suggest the names of three experts. The court will then decide which doctor should do the mental health evaluation, he said.
Swersky made his ruling after a psychiatrist concluded that Murphy remains unable to assist in his defense and Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel asked the court last week for a second opinion. Over the objections of defense attorneys, who said state law does not authorize the court to allow prosecutors to seek second opinions, Swersky took the matter under advisement.
More than four years have passed since Kevin was stabbed 18 times in an unprovoked attack while playing in the front yard of a relative's home in the Del Ray section of Alexandria. Murphy was later charged in the slaying but was found to have paranoid schizophrenia with severe delusions and was deemed by the court incompetent to stand trial.
Sengel said yesterday that he was pleased with the judge's decision.
"It certainly doesn't hurt to get a fresh set of eyes to look at a case as important as this," Sengel said.
Defense attorney Joseph J. McCarthy declined to comment yesterday on the judge's ruling.
Murphy, who is being administered antipsychotic drugs at Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Va., has been evaluated every six months by a psychiatrist. In her most recent status report to the court, Lillian M. Tidler, the assistant facility medical director, said that Murphy has made "significant improvement" with a new drug, Abilify, and other medications but that he remains incompetent.
Thomas Wise, medical director of behavioral services at Inova Fairfax Hospital, said second opinions are common in medicine but are more complicated with forensic cases. Determining competency is not easy, he said. Various factors could affect an evaluation, such as the clinical status of the patient, the knowledge and experience of the doctor and whether there is bias involved.
But overall, he said, medical professionals support having another opinion.
"It's very difficult to suggest why one would not want a second opinion," Wise said. "You don't want 15 until you get the right one, but a second opinion could never hurt."