State v. Khamvongsa, P1-2015-0544AG

CourtSuperior Court of Rhode Island
Writing for the CourtVOGEL, J.
PartiesSTATE OF RHODE ISLAND v. ZACKERY KHAMVONGSA
Docket NumberP1-2015-0544AG
Decision Date11 August 2022

STATE OF RHODE ISLAND
v.

ZACKERY KHAMVONGSA

No. P1-2015-0544AG

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence

August 11, 2022


For Plaintiff: Meghan E. McDonough, Esq.

For Defendant: Michael DiLauro, Esq.

Karen A. Clark, Esq.

DECISION

VOGEL, J.

Through counsel, Zackery Khamvongsa (Defendant) brings this motion to dismiss the indictment against him or, in the alternative, to end his commitment to the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH).[1] The Court exercises jurisdiction over this motion under G.L. 1956 § 40.1-5.3-3. For the reasons set forth in this Decision, the Court grants Defendant's motion.[2] The Court finds that Defendant is incompetent to stand trial, and no reasonable likelihood exists that he will become competent in the foreseeable future and not prior to the dismissal of the charges pursuant to § 40.15.3-3.

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I. Facts and Background

A. Alleged Offense

The parties have submitted the following joint statement of facts for purposes of the evidentiary hearing on Defendant's motion to dismiss:

"On December 17, 2014, Anthony Mitchell and Areis Degraca were leaving Rodrigues Market on Hartford Avenue when they were approached by the Defendant who asked Degraca for a light. He also asked Mitchell and Degraca respectively if they were "bloods" (i.e., gang members). Before Mitchell could answer the defendant, the defendant pulled out a handgun from his right front pocket and fired several rounds at Mitchell. Degraca witnessed the shooting and his friend succumb to his gunshot wounds Investigators interviewed Kevin Chet and Nikki Chet, who were with the defendant prior to the shooting. They explained they gave the defendant a ride to pick up a check. Upon their return to Hartford Avenue, the defendant pointed out a male who was wearing red and ask[ed] Kevin Chet who was driving to pull out. The defendant exited the vehicle and Kevin circled the block and parked his car on Manton Avenue where both he and Nikki waited for the defendant to return. A few minutes later, they heard gunshots and the defendant re-entered the vehicle. He stated, "I think I hit 'em." When asked what happened, the defendant responded, "I did what I had to do." After hearing this, Kevin dropped the defendant off on Manton Avenue. The defendant was identified as the shooter by Degraca. A witness observed the shooter run from the scene and enter a gold Maxima parked across the street. The description of the shooter matched the description of the defendant. The defendant was depicted on surveillance at the market at the time of the shooting." (Joint Statement of Facts, July 20, 2022.)

Upon information and belief, if this matter proceeded to trial, there would be no evidence presented to support any contention that Defendant knew Mr. Mitchell or knew of him. By all accounts, the evidence would support a finding that Mr. Mitchell was an innocent victim.[3]

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B. Indictment

On February 20, 2015, the Grand Jury of the State of Rhode Island charged Defendant in a four-count indictment as follows:

"COUNT 1
"That ZACK KHAMVONGSA, alias Zachary Khamrongsa, alias Zackery A. Khamvongsa, alias Zackery Khamvongsa, alias John Doe, of Providence County, on or about the 17th day of December, 2014, in the City of Providence, in the County of Providence, did murder Anthony Mitchell, in violation of §11-23-1 of the General Laws: of Rhode Island, 1956, as amended (Reenactment of 2002).
"COUNT 2
"That ZACK KHAMVONGSA, alias Zachary Khamrongsa, alias Zackery A. Khamvongsa, alias Zackery Khamvongsa, alias John Doe, of Providence County, on or about the 17th day of December, 2014, in the City of Providence, in the County of Providence, while committing a crime of violence, to wit, murder, did use and discharge a firearm resulting in the death of Anthony Mitchell, in violation of §11-47-3.2(b)(4) of the General Laws of Rhode Island, 1956, as amended (Reenactment of 2002).
"COUNT 3
"That ZACK KHAMVONGSA, alias Zachary Khamrongsa, alias Zackery A. Khamvongsa, alias Zackery Khamvongsa, alias John Doe, of Providence County, on or about the 17th day of December, 2014, in the City of Providence, in the County of Providence, did, without a license, carry a revolver on or about his person, in violation of §11-47-8(a) of the General Laws of Rhode Island, 1956, as amended (Reenactment of 2002).
"COUNT 4
"That ZACK KHAMVONGSA, alias Zachary Khamrongsa, alias Zackery A. Khamvongsa, alias Zackery Khamvongsa, alias John Doe, of Providence County, on a day and date between the 1st day of December, 2014 and the 17th day of December, 2014, in the City of Providence, in the County of Providence, did, without a license, carry a revolver on or about his person, in violation of §11-47-8(a) of the General Laws of Rhode Island, 1956, as amended (Reenactment of 2002). (Indictment.)
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C. Defendant's Mental Health History Prior to Charged Event

Defendant's mental health history, predating his alleged crime, is significant and complex. His contacts with the mental health system began in his late teens. Beginning in 2013, Defendant had a series of in-patient psychiatric admissions, and his behavior became increasingly psychotic. He was prescribed a variety of antipsychotic medications. However, it appears he was non-compliant with the prescriptions unless he was administered them during in-patient care or by injection pursuant to court order.

One hospitalization was triggered by multiple self-inflicted stab wounds to his abdomen. Another followed his attempt to stab himself in the chest in the purported effort to donate his heart. On another occasion, he hung himself out of a window. During one admission, in a paranoid episode, he attacked a fellow patient because he erroneously thought the patient killed his cousin. Defendant reported auditory hallucinations and appeared to have little insight into his illness. Defendant was discharged from his last hospitalization with a diagnosis of Schizophreniform Disorder. In May 2014, Defendant was receiving court ordered antipsychotic injections but indicated his intention to discontinue mental health treatment once the court order expired on July 7, 2014. Approximately five months after the expiration of that order, Defendant allegedly murdered Anthony Mitchell.

Defendant was admitted to Eleanor Slater Hospital (ESH) following his arrest for killing Anthony Mitchell. Since that time, BHDDH has been authorized to administer antipsychotic medications to Defendant pursuant to court order. (District Court Order, Dec. 3, 2021.) The medication has stabilized him but has not improved his anosognosia-a lack of insight into his mental illness and a symptom of his condition. (Report of Drs. Wall and Virani, Nov. 5, 2021.)

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D. Competency Evaluations and Psychiatric Criminal Responsibility Evaluation

Defendant had been set to be arraigned on the charges before a justice of the Superior Court on February 27, 2015. Prior to that date, Attorney Michael A. DiLauro entered his appearance on behalf of Defendant and filed an "OMNIBUS MOTION REGARDING THE DEFENDANT'S CONDITION &THE FORENSIC MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES PRESENTED." (Motion for Competency Evaluation, Feb. 24, 2015.) He requested the Court order Defendant's examination to determine his competency to stand trial. He further requested that the Court cancel Defendant's scheduled February 27, 2015 arraignment in light of "defendant's inability to properly assist counsel in his defense and failure to meet the other competency criteria prescribed by law[.]" Id.

On February 26, 2015, this trial justice granted the request for a competency evaluation and postponed the scheduled arraignment. Dr. Barry W. Wall evaluated Defendant to determine his competency to stand trial pursuant to that order and has performed nearly all of the subsequent competency evaluations conducted in this case.

Dr. Wall has been board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology since 1995 and received additional certification in forensic psychiatry in 1996. He has spent most of his professional career as a psychiatrist with ESH, joining the staff in 1995 after completing his education and training. Dr. Wall has authored seventeen original publications in peer-reviewed journals and has written several other articles and letters to the editors of non-professional publications in the field of forensic psychiatry. His professional responsibilities at ESH include evaluating patients to determine their competence to stand trial. He is highly experienced in performing such evaluations. (Curriculum Vitae, Dr. Wall.)

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1. March 20, 2015 Report by Dr. Wall

In response to the Court's order of February 26, 2015, Dr. Wall submitted an undated halfpage report finding Defendant incompetent to stand trial. (Competency Report, Mar. 20, 2015.) On July 28, 2015, the Court rejected that report for the failure of Dr. Wall to include adequate facts upon which the expert opinion was based. The Court ordered BHDDH to prepare and submit a more detailed report and specified each of the items for BHDDH to address in the evaluation. (Order, Aug. 11, 2015.)

2. September 22, 2015 Report by Dr. Wall

On September 22, 2015, Dr. Wall provided a sixteen-page report titled "SEMI-ANNUAL REVIEW" (SAR), although it was a supplement to his initial report which the Court had rejected. In the September 22, 2015 report, Dr. Wall opined that Defendant was then competent to stand trial. (Report of Dr. Wall, Sept. 22, 2015.) He diagnosed Defendant with "Schizophrenia (a chronic mental illness characterized by loss of contact with reality, impaired relatedness to others, and cognitive problems)." Id. at 13. He concluded Defendant's competency to stand trial was restored after receiving treatment for his mental...

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