Carter defendant ruled unfit

Published 8:00 pm Friday, February 20, 2015

A judge has ordered the psychological rehabilitation of one co-defendant in the Donald Carter murder case, after a psychiatrist deemed he was mentally unfit to stand trial.

After considering the results of a court-ordered evaluation by a doctor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Suffolk Circuit Court Judge Robert H. Sandwich Jr. on Friday ordered Katron Walker, 32, transferred from Western Tidewater Regional Jail to Central State Hospital in Petersburg, agreeing to a prosecution request.

“Some of the issues you are having from a personal standpoint, in the sense of the (poor) mental health and depression you are going through, things of that nature, need to be addressed,” Sandwich said.

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Sandwich cited a report compiled by Dr. Evan Nelson, who performed the mental evaluation. Nelson wrote that Walker “based on the data available, lacks” the ability to understand the legal process.

Walker’s attorney, Lori Butts, did not object to the judge’s order. “And he’s OK with that,” she added of her client.

Carter, 82, was slain outside his East Washington Street furniture store on Sept. 22. The commonwealth alleges he was shot to death in a botched robbery by Walker, Leon Hayes, 34, and Naomi Lambert, 23, after — according to prosecution testimony — inviting the witness, Lambert and one other female inside his building, where he offered liquor and money for sex.

Walker and Hayes, who also stood before Sandwich on Friday, each face first-degree murder and five other charges. Lambert faces the murder charge and four others.

Hayes refused to enter a plea during the arraignment hearing, complaining that his court-appointed attorney, Barrett Richardson, was mishandling the case. “Everything I have shown him hasn’t been brought to the attention of the court,” Hayes said.

Richardson said he has replied to each of the 30 letters Hayes has written him since the case began. “He doesn’t like what I’m telling him, and that’s his right,” Richardson said. “As far as me mishandling him or misrepresenting him, that’s just not true.”

Hayes said the attorney ignored his request to file for a change of venue — the court has yet to rule on such requests from both Walker and Lambert, who argue publicity surrounding the case would cost them a fair trial in Suffolk.

In a letter to the Suffolk News-Herald after the newspaper wrote to him with questions, Hayes questioned the testimony of the state’s witness during his preliminary hearing. “I didn’t attempt to rob Mr. Carter and I definite (sic) didn’t murder him. If anything I’m guilty of having bad intentions, and that (sic) all,” he stated.

After several minutes of argument back and forth, Sandwich said, “There’s no way the relationship is going to work. Mr. Richardson, I’m going to relieve you of this matter.”

Hayes is now due in court next week to advise of his new representation. Sandwich said he has someone in mind.

In another development in the case, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office has filed to disqualify Lambert’s court-appointed attorney, citing an opinion by the Virginia State Bar’s ethics counsel, Jim McCauley, that her representation by Ronilee Gomez contravenes the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.

According to the filing, the concern is that Gomez may use information gained in her work with the Suffolk Public Defender’s Office to seek to discredit prosecution witnesses.

The commonwealth intends to call at least three witnesses that are former clients of the Public Defender’s Office, and while witnesses can waive the conflict, the Public Defender’s Office “has already approached one of these witness … (but) that witness has declined,” according to the filing.

Gomez had also filed her own motion to disqualify the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office from prosecuting her client, who has pleaded not guilty and opted for a jury trial, alleging ties through the Ruritan organization between Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson and Carter at the time of the alleged offense. The attorney’s office argued that any connection was too remote to warrant a special prosecutor.

Walker has yet to enter a plea and is due to be transferred to the state hospital at “some point in the next 30 days,” Sandwich said. “Cooperate with the people up there. They are trying to help you,” he told the inmate.

Walker’s progress toward rehabilitation is set for review in the court on May 26.