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Court psychiatrist finds murder suspect incompetent

The James Lloyd Terry capital murder case took another turn Monday after a court-approved psychiatrist found the defendant incompetent to stand trial.

As a result, the trial scheduled for September has been delayed.

Judge Joel Cunningham denied a subsequent motion by the commonwealth to order another examination, citing Virginia law.

“We have to use applicable statutes,” said Cunningham, “and the statute only talks about one evaluation and one report.”

Competency evaluations can be performed by as many as three psychiatrists who together can perform one evaluation, Cunningham added.

The commonwealth argued language in the statute didn’t specifically call for only one evaluation, adding the gravity of the case should allow for another one.

“It’s the court’s decision at the end of the day to determine competency, and another examination provides the court with more information,” argued prosecutor Michael J. Newman, Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Danville.

Fellow prosecutor David Grimes, who serves as Pittsylvania County Commonwealth’s Attorney, urged a more liberal reading of the statute, saying it wasn’t the intent of the legislature to “tie the court’s hands” in restricting the number of competency evaluations.

Capital defender Stephanie S. Miller argued otherwise, saying “mere disagreement” with the findings of the court-approved psychiatrist is not sufficient to warrant a second exam.

She indicated to the court had the report come back another way, the court probably would not be hearing these arguments.

A second competency exam would violate the defendant’s right to due process, she argued.

“The commonwealth gives a bunch of hypotheticals that don’t apply to this case,” continued Miller. “It’s crystal clear the statute calls for one evaluation.”

“I can’t do it because it’s a nice thing to do. I have to do it in compliance with the law,” said Cunningham.

“The court has some discretion in the matter but cannot abuse that discretion,” Cunningham added, “and the court doesn’t have the statutory right to order a second evaluation.”

The commonwealth has the right to continue to seek the death penalty on capital charges in the case once the defendant is restored to competency, Cunningham told prosecutors, before continuing pre-trial motions in the case to a hearing scheduled for Aug. 19.

Terry, a 41-year-old Halifax resident, is facing seven charges in connection with the April 2011 death of 84-year-old Charlotte Osborne Rice, according to court records, including two for capital murder during rape, two for object sexual penetration, and one each for capital murder in the commission of robbery, burglary and robbery.

Terry was arrested after the body of Rice was discovered in her North Main Street home when authorities responded to a report of a possible breaking and entering.

Acting on a 911 call from a neighbor, police arrived at Rice’s residence where they apprehended Terry following a foot pursuit through yards adjacent to Rice’s house.

Terry, a registered sex offender, could face the death penalty if convicted of capital charges.