The Washington Post

Man charged in 2012 fatal hammer attack had history of mental illness

About a week before Michael Davis was arrested last April for allegedly hitting five people with a hammer and killing one of them, he stopped taking medication for mental illness, according to new documents filed in D.C. Superior Court.

Davis, 20, is charged with first-degree murder and assault with intent to kill in connection with a series of hammer attacks in his Petworth neighborhood that left Gary Dederichs, 66, a tourist from Denver, dead and four others injured.

Davis was sent for evaluation at St. Elizabeths, the District’s psychiatric hospital, where doctors deemed him not competent to stand trial.

But doctors determined in December that Davis's condition had improved, and this week, a series of hearings began to reevaluate his competency. If Judge Robert E. Morin determines that Davis is competent, he could be discharged from St. Elizabeths and sent to the D.C. jail to await trial.

Davis’s court-appointed public defenders have filed dozens of ­pages of evaluations from doctors who have reviewed Davis’s medical records since childhood and have interviewed him and his family.

The court filings offer new information about a troubled man who has wrestled with mental illness since birth.

Davis was one of seven brothers and sisters, including Vernon Davis, a tight end for the San Francisco 49ers, and Vontae Davis, a cornerback for the Indianapolis Colts. Neither of the two football players returned requests for comment left with media representatives.

Davis’s parents, grandmother and other family members crowded into two rows of Morin’s courtroom as the hearings began Monday. They also declined to comment.

According to the papers filed by the defense, Jacqueline Davis, the suspect's mother, used crack cocaine and abused alcohol. She was also treated for a sexually transmitted disease, and Davis tested positive for the disease when he was born, the reports say. Davis’s father, Otis Willis, struggled with his own mental illness at the time, according to the papers. Willis declined to comment after the hearing.

The defense filings also say that Davis was born with a physical impairment — two tongues. Doctors removed one of the tongues when he was a child. Development was slow. He did not take his first step until he was 2 and did not speak until he was 3.

When he was 5, Davis went to live with his maternal grandmother. He was often quiet and rarely socialized with other children. He often kept to himself. When his grandmother enrolled him in pre-kindergarten, ADHD was diagnosed, and he was treated with Ritalin. His teachers put in him special education classes. When he was in the first grade, he was placed in a program for learning disabled or impaired children, the filings say. He repeated the third grade twice.

When he was 8 or 9, Davis, like his brothers, began playing football. But he didn’t play long before he started experiencing “significant headaches,” according to one of the reports by a St. Elizabeths doctor.

When he was 10, things became dangerous. Davis started showing violent behavior toward himself. Family members would try to stop him from banging his head on the floor.

By age 12, family members reported that Davis would “stare at people in an uncanny, bizarre manner” and would act “aggressively” toward his sisters. Davis continued to isolate himself. But he also had a fascination with breaking things and taking electronic items apart, such as his grandmother’s appliances.

As Davis approached adolescence, family members told doctors that they began noticing more challenging behavior, including responding to voices that only he could hear, the court papers say. One of the doctors at St. Elizabeths reported that Davis developed a “major psychotic illness,” most likely, schizophrenia, at that time.

In summer 2008, at age 15, he was determined to have an IQ of 71, in the impaired range. He was placed in a summer residential program, but his behavior worsened. One instructor saw Davis washing his clothes in the washing machine, one item at a time. The program also prescribed medication to control his illness, but Davis would hide the pills in his cheeks rather than swallow them, the documents said.

Later that year, Davis, then 16, was admitted to the Psychiatric Institute of Washington for an evaluation for “his safety,” according to one of the court filings.

It was his first hospitalization, but there would be many more. Davis bounced in and out of hospitals in the following months and years, battling drug use and “bizarre behavior,” the court records show. Schizophrenia was diagnosed; he was “clearly psychotic,” doctors wrote.

Davis’s final hospital stay before the attacks was in February 2012, when he was discharged from Howard Hospital, according to the court records. At the time, a doctor noted in his records that he had stopped taking some of his medication.

The first hammer attack occurred April 24, and the attacks continued through April 26, the day Davis was arrested.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of slain federal intern Chandra Levy.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Making family dinnertime happen
How to make Sean Brock's 'Heritage' cornbread
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Play Videos
Drawing as an act of defiance
In search of the Delmarva fox squirrel
The most interesting woman you've never heard of
Play Videos
This man's job is binge-watching for Netflix
The Post taste tests Pizza Hut's new hot dog pizza
5 tips for using your thermostat
Play Videos
Philadelphia's real signature sandwich
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.