Defendant ordered to hospital still in jail

Claude Shafer Jr.

WOODSTOCK — A month after a judge ordered accused murderer Claude Shafer Jr. transferred from the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail to a hospital for treatment of mental illness, Shafer remains in jail.

Shafer’s defense attorneys warned in February that their client’s mental condition was deteriorating in the jail, a warning that was bolstered when a mental health expert concluded a few days ago that Shafer is no longer competent to stand trial.

Circuit Judge Dennis L. Hupp responded to the warning from defense attorneys Edward Ungvarsky and Timothy Coyne by issuing an order on March 4 that Shafer be transferred to Central State Hospital in Petersburg.

Hupp wrote there was “clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has a mental illness, the defendant will, in the near future suffer serious harm due to his lack of capacity to protect himself from harm as evidenced by relevant information adduced at [the] hearing and that the defendant requires treatment in a hospital rather than the local correctional facility, RSW.”

Hupp added that he was ordering the hospitalization to “provide psychiatric treatment and medication to the defendant to ensure the defendant’s mental and physical health.”

Shafer, 37, has been charged with capital murder and could receive the death penalty if he is found guilty in the stabbing death of Phyllis Kline, 65, of Edinburg, in June 2013.

A letter sent from a jail staff member to Hupp on March 9 states that a backlog at Central State was preventing Shafer’s transfer and would likely continue to do so for several weeks.

Sgt. Leslie Williams told Hupp that she spoke March 9 with someone who processes newly arrived patients at the hospital. Williams wrote that the hospital staff member “explained that he would place Mr. Shafer on the waiting list, and he is the last one on the list at this time.”

Williams added that the staff member told her that “the list is long, and they try to bring everyone in within three weeks, but it will depend on releases and emergency intakes into the facility.”

Shafer was still in the RSW jail as of Friday morning.

Phone messages left for officials with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services were not returned.

Hupp reported from the bench at a hearing Wednesday that a mental health expert believed that Shafer was no longer competent to stand trial and should undergo treatment to restore his ability to do so.

Hupp did not identify the examiner, but court records show he issued an order March 20 authorizing a psychologist, Sara Boyd, to evaluate Shafer and submit a report on his competency to stand trial. The report was to evaluate Shafer’s ability to understand court proceedings, his ability to assist his attorneys and his need for treatment if he was found incompetent.

Ungvarsky said at a hearing in February that Shafer’s mental condition worsened in January when the jail staff failed to provide him with medication he needed for several unspecified mental illnesses, a complaint that echoed those of another defendant in court hearings late last year.

Ungvarsky and Coyne recently filed a motion stating that they met several times with Shafer in early March. They wrote that their meetings had left them convinced that their client was incompetent to stand trial.

Shafer is not the only area jail inmate whose placement at Central State is bogged down.

Christopher Collins, a defense attorney from the Winchester area, said he has asked about the reasons why a client of his has encountered trouble transferring from the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center to Central State.

“I can’t get an answer from Central State,” Collins said in an interview.

Collins said his client, who was found not guilty by reason of mental defect, is still in the detention center waiting to be sent to Central State.

“His family is really upset he’s still locked up and can’t be sent there,” Collins said.

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