Washington County officials said Monday a psychological exam of a murder suspect shows the man is not competent to stand trial for a February shooting which took the life of a nine-year-old boy.
The evaluation of Nhan Tran, 34, of Oakdale is not public. However, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said the doctor who conducted the examination, Dr. Lawrence Panciera, concluded that Tran is not competent to stand trial.
Orput said he "disagrees vehemently" with the assessment and asked the court for another evaluation. He said the Washington County Attorney's office wants Dr. James Gilbertson to perform that examination. He said the process could take another 60 days to complete.
Orput also said Panciera's evaluation opens the door for a plea of "not guilty by reason of insanity" from Tran's defense.
Orput said if a psychologist believes a person was not mentally capable of understanding their actions while committing a crime, the person can use that as a defense.
"It's very unusual," said Orput. "In 26 years experience, I've maybe dealt with it [insanity defense] once."
Orput added the "not guilty by reason of insanity" defense is rarely successful.
Tran's attorney Susan Drabek, a Washington County public defender, has not entered a plea for Tran. She said she's disappointed, but not surprised, that the county attorney is asking for another evaluation of Tran. Drabek asked Judge Gary Schurrer to move Tran out of the jail to a state hospital for the time being. Drabek said Tran "has found conditions at the jail to be very stressful."
Drabek added that while Tran is safe at the jail, he's also on suicide watch. And she said Tran would be better served at a state hospital.
Schurrer told Drabek he'd take her request under advisement and will speak to jail personnel before making a decision.
Tran appeared in court wearing blue, jail-issued clothing. He quietly said "good morning" to Judge Schurrer after the judge greeted him first. Members of Tran's family were present for the hearing. They didn't speak to members of the media, but released a statement expressing grief for the family of Devin Aryal, the nine-year-old boy Tran is accused of killing.
"We wanted to let the family of little Devin know that we are mourning along with them in the loss of their son," reads the statement. "This tragic event has torn apart our family and our hearts hurt for you and for the others who were injured."
The family statement also said Tran has been ill for several years. "He has been tormented by these thoughts of people systematically following and stalking him," reads the statement. "We have tried to get him some help, but our family does not have health insurance, and due to his illness, Nhan did not see that he needed any help."
Devin Aryal's mother, Missy Aryal, was also in the court room. She said the sight of Tran made her feel "hate."
However, Aryal said she will continue to show up for all the proceedings in the murder trial because she said she will be her son's voice.
"He stole my son's life," she said. And Aryal added she hopes Tran's mental health status doesn't allow him to get a lighter sentence.
"Be nice if we had the death penalty," said Aryal.
The next hearing in Tran's case is scheduled for May 10.