By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – He sat with his head slightly cocked back, his eyes almost closed and, for nearly 15 minutes while the proceeding went forward, he almost didn’t move save an occasional opening of the eyes or a swallow. It was only at the end of the hearing, when he attempted to say something but was kept quiet by his attorney, that he showed any signs of engagement.
In my time covering court hearings, nearly 15 years, I have never seen someone like that sitting in the court, with the posture and body position of Carlos Dominguez.
Dominguez is suspected of being the person who stabbed and killed two people in Davis in late April and severely injured a third person.
I was struck by a NY Times article this week—in a lot of ways, it painted an impressive portrait of David Breaux, noting, “After graduating from Stanford, David Breaux struggled to find his path — until he found his calling as ‘the Compassion Guy.’”
But the headline caused a few people to shake their heads: “He Devoted His Life to Compassion. His Killer Showed None.”
The Times article did a really great job of covering Breaux’s life and impact on the community, but the headline suggests that Dominguez—if he’s indeed guilty of the crime he is charged with—made a conscious action, when in all probability Dominguez seems not to be in his right mind.
For sure, there is a juxtaposition between the life of David Breaux and his ending.
The NY Times article noted, “Until the cruelest of endings and a paradox. At 50 years old, Mr. Breaux was found stabbed to death on a park bench in late April.”
Of all people to meet this kind of end, that was certainly my reaction and not mine alone. My first thought was who would do such a thing?
When rumors swirled that the police had the possible suspect in custody, I saw the video of the young man calmly sitting on the curb and thought—this can’t possibly be the person who so brutally stabbed three people, killing two of them.
I had conveniently ignored the lessons from some wrongful conviction cases—demeanor evidence is unreliable. As it turned out, it was indeed the suspect.
Watching him in court with the camera angle as it was, it was very clear that this young, at least on the surface, appears to be deeply troubled.
His attorney has declared a doubt about his competency to stand trial. Criminal proceedings have been suspended as psychiatrists will evaluate the young man’s ability to follow the proceedings and understand the charges against him.
Judge McAdam toward the end of the proceedings on Tuesday addressed the issue of competency and the request to represent himself.
“At the end of the last proceeding, the defendant had indicated that he wanted to proceed without an attorney—said that several times—(so) the court had already suspended proceedings,” the judge noted. “One of the issues before the court is whether the defendant can understand these legal proceedings and whether he can cooperate with his attorney; if those questions are answered in the negative, then clearly he can’t represent himself.”
The judge added, “The doctor’s report will guide us… at least be the first, frontline answer to how we proceed procedurally.”
Press accounts have pieced together at least some background on Dominguez, born in El Salvador, entering the country in April 2009 as an unaccompanied minor, who would have been around seven at the time.
While that experience as well as possible experiences in violence-torn portions of El Salvador might be underlying factors, his family has expressed shock, have told the media that they never had a hint of a problem, and that he got excellent grades in school.
At the same time, we know he was dismissed from UC Davis, possibly indicating something going on at that point as well.
What we saw on Tuesday, however, seems indicative of a problem. But right now, we lack a lot of evidence and have only speculation about what is going on here.
We will await reports as to how this will proceed. At this point there seems a reasonable chance that he will be found not competent to stand trial and that may offer us clues into why this young man is now in custody facing murder charges.