Henrico man still incompetent for trial in deaths of parents
A Henrico County man suffering from schizophrenia remains incompetent to stand trial, 4½ years after allegedly shooting to death his mother, Martha B. Brissette, 56, and his father, Henry J. Brissette III, 59, on Easter 2016.
William Roy Brissette, 26, is being treated for schizophrenia, a psychosis that includes hallucinations and delusions, at Central State Hospital in Petersburg. Doctors there have asked the court to consider ordering a new anti-psychotic drug that may restore him to competency.
“The drug of last resort,” doctors called it in their latest evaluation of Brissette, Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor told Henrico Circuit Judge James Stephen Yoffy during a hearing Thursday.
Yoffy first ordered Brissette to Central State for restoration in April 2017, but the hospital had no way of compelling Brissette to take medication that could correct the chemical imbalance that results in schizophrenia, forcing Yoffy to make a second order a month later.
At that time, his defense team was unsure if treatment was in Brissette’s best interest because he was facing the death penalty for the pair of capital murder charges. Taylor has since said she will not seek the death penalty, and one of Brissette’s attorneys, Seth Shelley, a deputy capital defender, said Brissette “needs medication.”
Summarizing the evaluations from three doctors who examined Brissette recently, attorneys said they have reached the maximum dosage of the medication Brissette is currently taking, Risperidone, which is used to treat certain mental or mood disorders like schizophrenia.
Now doctors want to try clozapine.
A hearing has been set in December so Yoffy can decide whether possible side effects from the new medication outweigh the possibility of restoring Brissette’s competency.
Taylor called it a “balancing act” — balancing the need for justice and the rights of the defendant.
“We would be remiss if we weren’t doing our job to follow due process, for the defendant, and the family who have lost loved ones,” Taylor said after Thursday’s hearing.
The case is remarkable, attorneys agreed. It is partly because of sheer amount of time spent trying to restore his competency.
“Because it’s capital murder, we have more options than if it were a [lesser] charge,” Taylor said.
Typically, incompetent defendants are able to be restored within a year, Shelley said.
“It is the degree to which Mr. Brissette is so severely mentally ill,” Shelley said. “All doctors agree, Roy is severely mentally ill and has been
RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH for years, even before the incident. ...It is hard, for lack of a better term, to bring somebody back.”
Brissette lived with his mother and father in the 3800 block of Forge Road, and was taken into custody shortly after calling 911 from the home on March 27, 2016.
Police had responded to the Brissette household nearly 30 times in the prior 10 years before returning on Easter Sunday for a “suspicious situation” that was the fatal double shooting inside the home. Several of those calls involved mental health assistance for William Brissette.
Regardless of the outcome of this new effort at restoration, Brissette likely faces indefinite institutionalization.
State law allows unrestorably incompetent defendants to be held forever without trial, according to Doug Ramseur, another of Brissette’s attorneys who was a capital defender until he recently started private practice.
“That is simply because Mr. Brissette is charged with capital murder, if he were charged with any other offense then his charges would have to be dismissed without prejudice after 5 years of being incompetent,” Ramseur wrote. “There are currently two other people that I am aware of who are being held indefinitely because they are charged with capital murder and are unrestorably incompetent.”
If doctors are able to restore Brissette, though unlikely, the attorney said, then questions of his sanity at the time of the offense have to be addressed.
“Should Mr. Brissette be found to have been insane at the time of the offense due to his severe schizophrenia, then he would be committed to Central State Hospital until such time as a court is convinced that he does not pose a danger to himself or others,” Ramseur said.
“Neither of those outcomes would likely result in Mr. Brissette’s release from incarceration and treatment any time in the immediate future,” Ramseur said.
The case raises questions about the state’s and the criminal justice system’s ability to treat the mentally ill long term. There are no long-term care facilities in the state, Taylor said. Doctors at Central State told her Brissette is already the hospital’s second longest patient, she added.
The law that allows for the release of a defendant found not guilty by reason of insanity doesn’t address how the state ensures the individual continues to maintain their treatment regimen, Taylor said.
She said she hopes to raise some of the issues from this case to state lawmakers as they tackle criminal reform.