East Coast rape suspect denied second mental competency evaluation
By Josh White,
The man suspected of carrying out at least a dozen rapes and other attacks along the East Coast since the mid-1990s will not have another opportunity for a mental competency evaluation in advance of his trial scheduled for July 31 in Prince William County.
Circuit Court Judge Mary Grace O’Brien ruled Friday that Aaron Thomas, 41, is not entitled to a second mental competency evaluation, as an earlier evaluation concluded that he was exaggerating or faking a mental condition as a way to get out of being prosecuted. Thomas’s defense attorneys had argued that Thomas’s mental condition has deteriorated, and that they question his ability to understand the proceedings against him at a trial.
In court papers, Thomas’s attorneys wrote that he has been acting erratically since his move to the Prince William County jail this year. They said Thomas, the only suspect in the East Coast Rapist cases, has been mutilating himself and has been refusing to cooperate or even speak with his attorneys since March, and he has refused to meet with mental health professionals since his first evaluation.
During the Friday hearing, Thomas tried to interrupt attorneys and the judge, asking whether he would be allowed to address the court, but O’Brien did not allow him to speak.
As he was being escorted from the courtroom, Thomas again asked if he could make a statement. “I want to talk,” he said. “I never got a chance to talk. Am I going to get a chance to talk?”
Thomas is scheduled to stand trial for allegedly dragging three teenage trick-or-treaters into a wooded ravine on Halloween in 2009 and raping two of them before fleeing in darkness as police approached. DNA recovered from the Woodbridge scene linked the case to at least 11 others in Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut and Rhode Island, dating to 1997. After an intensified manhunt following the Halloween case, police focused on Thomas and arrested him in New Haven, Conn., in March 2011.
Prince William police have testified that Thomas acknowledged attacking the girls in the Halloween case, and police said he gave similar confessions to detectives from other jurisdictions. Thomas has been indicted in a Leesburg rape and could face charges in Fairfax and Prince George’s counties. He was transferred to Virginia after Connecticut prosecutors agreed to allow Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert to act first.
Thomas’s attorneys have filed court documents indicating that they intend to use an insanity defense at trial, which would imply they plan to concede Thomas’s involvement in the rapes but will argue that he did not understand the consequences of the crime, did not understand right from wrong at the time, or acted on a so-called irresistible impulse.
Such a defense probably would require expert testimony from a mental health professional, and prosecutors would be entitled to evaluate Thomas’s mental state at the time of the crime separately. Should Thomas refuse to cooperate with a Commonwealth expert, a judge could bar any mental health evidence from being presented at trial.
O’Brien on Friday made that point in court, telling Thomas he would have to cooperate with a Commonwealth mental health expert if he wants to pursue an insanity defense. “Okay,” Thomas answered.
Law enforcement officials say that Thomas’s alleged crimes showed some level of planning — he brought a mask and a weapon to the Halloween attack — and that he knew enough to escape and then go on the run afterward. Upon his arrest, authorities said, he asked police why it took so long for them to find him.