Judge orders murder defendant to mental hospital

Claude Shafer Jr.

WOODSTOCK – A judge Friday agreed to have accused murderer Claude Delmus Shafer Jr. transferred to a psychiatric hospital after a defense attorney warned that the defendant’s mental condition was worsening “every day” in the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail.

Attorney Edward Ungvarsky said further deterioration of Shafer’s mental state would likely render him incompetent to participate in his defense and, if upheld by a court, would require postponing a trial.

Shafer is facing the possibility of a death sentence if he is convicted in the June 2013 robbery and stabbing death of Phyllis Kline, 65, of 14887 Old Valley Pike in her Edinburg home.

“What I’m saying is that his mental health is poor and getting worse every day,” Ungvarsky said of Shafer.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Wiseley did not contest Ungvarsky’s comments. RSW jail superintendent William Wilson could not be reached for comment.

Ungvarsky asked Hupp to transfer Shafer to Central State Hospital in Petersburg to give the defendant “the treatment he needs.”

Hupp’s decision marks at least the third time since November that a Shenandoah County judge has acted after hearing complaints about an inmate at the RSW jail not receiving proper care for a mental health problem. The other two times involved inmate Reece Varney Jr., who is scheduled to go on trial next week on a charge of malicious wounding and several related offenses.

Ungvarsky said Shafer’s condition deteriorated markedly in January when jail staff failed to provide him with medication prescribed for several mental illnesses. Varney’s complaints also focused on the unavailability of needed medications.

Ungvarsky said he was told Shafer’s medication problems stemmed from a staffing shortage at the jail, the jail running out of medication and an inability to find anyone on staff who could obtain the drugs from an authorized prescriber.

Ungvarsky was also told that Shafer would have to wait until April to see a psychologist and that session would have to be conducted by video conferencing.

Ungvarsky said the jail’s staff was “doing the best it could” under the circumstances but his client needed placement in a facility that could guarantee him consistent access to his medications.

Shafer, shackled at the ankles and clad in a black striped jail uniform, sat wordless through the hearing.

Hupp said the capital murder charge meant the consequences of a conviction could be “quite dire” for Shafer.

“In this case, we want to be extremely careful,” Hupp said in explaining his decision to grant the transfer to Central State.

Hupp scheduled another hearing for 3 p.m. April 1 to review the case. He asked Ungvarsky to write up the order for Shafer’s transfer to Central State.

Ungvarsky and his co-counsel, public defender Timothy Coyne, had already raised questions about Shafer’s mental condition weeks ago when they received permission from Hupp to hire a psychologist to evaluate their client. Ungvarsky said an “intellectual disability” raised doubts about whether Shafer was acting voluntarily when he waived his Miranda rights and gave statements to law enforcement officers investigating Kline’s murder.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com