WOODSTOCK – A judge ordered an Edinburg man charged in a knife attack on a woman and her children in 2017 to remain in a secure state facility so experts can see if the defendant poses a risk to the community.
Samual Jacob Homer appeared in Shenandoah County Circuit Court on Friday for a hearing to review his status and potential next steps after a judge found him unrestorably incompetent to stand trial. Homer appeared in the court via video conference while incarcerated at Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail.
Homer, 20, of Edinburg, stands charged in the court with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and five counts of possession of child pornography. Indictments charge Homer with committing attempted murder and malicious wounding on May 18, 2017, and possessing child pornography on April 16, 2017.
Judge Clark A. Ritchie said he had reviewed reports pertaining to forensic examinations of Homer.
By the end of the roughly 90-minute hearing, Ritchie ordered that the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services take custody of Homer and that he undergo a risk assessment evaluation. Ritchie ordered that Homer remain in custody in a secure facility for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while he undergoes assessments.
Ritchie scheduled another hearing April 12 to review the status of the risk assessment and the defendant.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Amanda Wiseley asked the court to order Homer to remain in state custody given the severity of the charges and the circumstances of the incident. Homer’s attorney Peter McDermott said his client can’t stay in jail or enter a state training center, leaving only one option – send the defendant home. Homer’s court-appointed guardian Michael Araj said he agreed with statements made by both the prosecutor and the defense.
The prosecutor pointed out that the court had ordered Homer to go to the training center run by the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services to see if he qualifies for entry into the facility. Rather than being sent to the center as ordered under state code, training evaluators met with Homer for one day at another facility, Wiseley said. The report states the training center was not appropriate for Homer because of potential safety risks, Wiseley said. At the same time, the report states Homer needs a less-restrictive alternative, she added.
Ritchie later said he shared Wiseley’s concerns that Homer was not transported to the training center as ordered by the court.
“There are some questions that I have,” Ritchie said. “But there are questions that I don’t have. One, Mr. Homer is going to remain under 24-hour, secure supervision and that is something I want to be clear about, for his own safety and for the safety of the public. Mr. Homer will not be in any way conditionally released, unconditionally released, until this court orders otherwise.”
Ritchie said he needed more information about Homer.
“I am sensitive, and I am sympathetic to Mr. Homer’s situation,” Ritchie said. “He is someone – and Mr. McDermott did a great job on cross-examination referring to these tests and the percentile of his functional capability – he is someone who needs services, and he needs care because of his incompetency. But also he needs to be safe, and so I need more information in order to reconcile these things.”
Ritchie said he took exception to McDermott’s assertion that the court could take no other action than to send his client home.
Dr. Kenneth Showalter, a clinical psychologist in the forensic unit at Western State Hospital, testified earlier in the hearing as an expert witness as to his involvement in the case. Showalter met with Homer on three occasions and ultimately recommended the defendant undergo an assessment to determine his level of risk to himself and the community.
“In my opinion, at that point, I felt that he needed further evaluation and specifically what we call (an) assessment for risk of future aggression based on the fact that he was unable to be adjudicated on the original charges,” Showalter said in response to Araj’s questions. “But given the context of that, for his safety and the safety of others, I recommended this type of evaluation so that whatever disposition occurred, these risk factors for future aggression could be addressed and be managed to reduce the chances of future aggression to as minimal a state as possible.”
Defendants in this situation usually undergo assessments in a facility on an in-patient basis to provide 24-hour observation, Showalter said. An expert interviews the defendant several times to assess the person individually and to collect collateral from staff members who observed the patient.
Showalter said he reviewed an evaluation performed by experts at Central State Hospital to determine if Homer qualified for the training center. The evaluation addressed Homer’s intellectual and adaptive functions, but did not include a “crucial” risk assessment, Showalter said.
General risk factors in Homer’s case include psychosis, Showalter said. Homer didn’t talk about psychotic symptoms but had experienced hallucinations at the time of the alleged offense, Showalter said.
“Mental illness is usually the No. 1 risk factor for future aggression,” Showalter said.
Minimizing this risk factor likely would require medication, which Homer is taking, the expert added. To better manage this risk factor, a patient could receive medication through longer-lasting injections, Showalter said.
Other risk factors include substance abuse and unstructured time during the day, Showalter said. Asked if the training center can conduct a risk assessment, Showalter said he did not know, but he suspected they could.
Asked by Araj if Homer would do well in the community without a risk assessment, Showalter said his evaluation focused on the defendant’s competency. However, Showalter said, “I would have tremendous concern about his ability to take care of himself.”
In response to a question from Wiseley, Showalter said a risk assessment is necessary before sending Homer to the training center. Showalter had recommended the training center evaluate Homer to see if he qualified for the services, but admitted he should have also asked that they perform a risk assessment. Such an assessment would take more than one day, Showalter added.
Ritchie also asked questions of the expert witness. Showalter explained that he did not meet with Homer during the restoration process conducted through Northwestern Community Services. Showalter later developed a report in which he, in his opinion, deemed Homer unrestorable. Showalter recommended Homer receive care in a facility with 24-hour observation. The expert also recommended that a court certify Homer for a training center.