David Tarloff, 39, center, is walked out of the 19th Precinct in New York City, Saturday, Feb. 16, 2008. Tarloff was arrested Saturday in the vicious slaying of Kathryn Faughey, a psychologist attacked in her office with a meat cleaver, police said.(AP Photo/Andy Kropa)
The long-in-limbo trial of a psychiatric patient charged with murdering a therapist with a meat cleaver was poised to start last month until new questions arose about the man's mental fitness.
Now a court may decide Tuesday whether David Tarloff can stand trial now or needs more treatment before he's stable enough — a finding that could delay the trial indefinitely.
Tarloff is accused of killing psychologist Kathryn Faughey in February 2008 as part of a peculiar robbery plot targeting her office mate, a psychiatrist who'd been involved in the first of Tarloff's many psychiatric hospitalizations, in 1991. Tarloff has planned an insanity defense.
The schizophrenic Tarloff is prone to delusions that he's the Messiah and God and that the devil speaks to him, his lawyer and psychiatrists have said, and his mental state has been an issue since his arrest. He was deemed mentally incompetent for trial for about a year after his arrest until doctors said last year that his condition had improved.
Jury selection was under way last month when Tarloff refused to leave a courthouse holding cell or respond to questions, his lawyers said. After being taken back to Bellevue Hospital, he stripped naked and ran around a psychiatric ward, according to his lawyer.
Two psychiatrists then found Tarloff mentally unfit to proceed, but prosecutors had another expert evaluate him. Those results are due to be made public Tuesday.
If the prosecutors' psychologist also finds Tarloff unfit for trial, that will end the discussion, the judge has said. Tarloff would then be officially declared unfit and sent to a state hospital until doctors again found he had improved enough to stand trial — if they ever did.
If the prosecutors' psychologist says Tarloff is mentally competent now, however, his lawyers could ask for yet another exam by their chosen doctor. That would likely eventually lead to a hearing on the various findings, with the judge ultimately ruling on the issue.
Whatever the time frame, jury selection would have to start over if the trial goes forward.
Being competent for trial means being able to understand court proceedings and help in one's defense. It doesn't rule out an insanity defense, which requires showing that a person was so mentally ill when committing a crime that he or she didn't know it was wrong.
Tarloff told police he went to Faughey's Manhattan office to rob the psychiatrist who shared her office, Dr. Kent Shinbach. Tarloff's goal was to get $50,000 to whisk his mother out of a nursing home and take her to Hawaii, he said in a video-recorded statement.
He encountered Faughey instead and believed she was going to attack him, he said.
Faughey was slashed 15 times, and Shinbach was seriously hurt as he tried to save her, authorities said.