COURT WATCH: Alleged Davis Serial Stabber ‘Most Likely’ to Be Diagnosed with Schizophrenia, but Still Faces Tense, 2-Week Competency Trial

By Madison Whittemore

WOODLAND, CA – The jury trial for determining the mental competency of alleged Davis serial stabber Carlos Dominguez began this week here in Yolo County Superior Court after Judge Samuel McAdam reviewed several motions that sparked heated arguments between the prosecution and defense.

Dominguez, a former UC Davis student, is being held for brutally stabbing three people in late April and early May—two of which were fatal.

Despite a court-issued doctor ruling Dominguez mentally incompetent to stand trial during a hearing in May, Deputy District Attorney Matt De Moura requested a jury competency trial, which was granted by Judge McAdam.

During Monday’s hearing, before addressing preliminary matters, Judge McAdam emphasized the purpose of the jury trial is to determine if Dominguez is mentally competent to stand a full trial, adding “the issue of guilt is not before the jury today.”

While neither Deputy Public Defender Daniel Hutchinson nor DDA De Moura submitted a statement of the case (relevant facts and history), there were six motions in total—four coming from DDA De Moura and two coming from DPD Hutchinson.

The first motion, from the prosecution, was a “motion to exclude [the court issued doctor’s] reliance on hearsay testimony.” The motion was quickly denied without prejudice by Judge McAdam with no further comments by DDA De Moura or DPD Hutchinson.

The second motion, from the prosecution, was a motion to use a “spontaneous statement” made by Dominguez in a prior hearing where he allegedly stated his guilt and wanted to “apologize” for the crimes.

DDA De Moura conceded he knew the criminal proceedings were suspended at the time of the statement due to the question of Dominguez’s mental competency and his Fifth Amendment rights (which allows the accused to not testify if it may incriminate them).

However, despite acknowledging this, DDA De Moura described the statement as a voluntary admission of guilt and public apology by Dominguez which the jury should be informed of and consider.

Judge McAdam once again reminded DDA De Moura that the guilt or innocence of Dominguez is not in question in the competency trial and that Dominguez’s statement is “highly prejudicial” (meaning it could sway jurors based on the improper basis of evidence). 

McAdam also stressed the only questions that jurors should consider are whether or not Dominguez understands the nature and purpose of criminal proceedings, is able to assist his defense team and understands his own status and condition in the criminal proceedings.

As tensions continued to rise in the courtroom, DDA Frits van der Hoek disputed Judge McAdam’s opinion on the motion. 

“I disagree that guilt has nothing to do with what’s going on here. I think the defendant’s thoughts on his own guilt are highly relevant to the proceedings and highly relevant to how he’s acting,” DDA van der Hoek claimed.

The prosecutor added, “The evidence that’s going to be presented is that he’s not participating in certain processes that he doesn’t want to participate in and he’s made it clear in court through that statement that he’s guilty and he wants to apologize.”

DDA van der Hoek explained the prosecution had evidence that included seven and a half hours of video footage from interviews with the Davis Police Department and the Yolo County Jail that support the prosecution’s belief that Dominguez is mentally competent to stand a full trial.

“They [the videos] show that he has the mental capacity to engage in complex thought and have rational discussions with people when he elects to,” DDA Van Der Hoek asserted.

DPD Hutchinson disagreed, explaining the court-appointed doctor analyzed all seven and a half hours of video footage and “will testify to the multiple symptoms of mental illness that was readily apparent to her in watching that interview.” 

In addition to this, DPD Hutchinson criticized the prosecution’s arguments, claiming that neither the prosecution nor law enforcement officers have formal mental health training that would make Dominguez’s alleged confessions admissible in court.

Judge McAdam tentatively denied DDA De Moura’s motion, but added that he had not seen the video footage and would be “open to reconsideration” about his ruling on the motion after watching the footage.

Despite the motion being tentatively denied, DPD Hutchinson continued to dispute DDA De Moura and Judge McAdam, clarifying that Dominguez gave brief, one word responses when questioned by law enforcement officers which were merely “interpreted as a confession.”

The third motion, from the prosecution, was a request to exclude the testimony of a highly qualified neuropsychologist, Dr. Watson, who met with Dominguez on May 31, June 14 and June 30.

According to DPD Hutchinson, Dr. Watson was doing “substantial” tests to determine whether Dominguez had a psychotic disorder or neurocognitive deficits and, unlike the court appointed doctor, was not evaluating Dominguez’s mental competency to stand trial.

DPD Hutchinson added that Dr. Watson found that Dominguez suffers from a mental disorder that “in all likelihood is schizophrenia” which he noted was simply a more nuanced version of the mental issues previously identified by the court issued doctor.

Despite this, DDA De Moura claimed Dr. Watson’s opinions should be “limited,” citing Dr. Watson’s failure to complete a full evaluation of Dominguez on two separate dates: The first occurred on July 14 when the evaluation only lasted an hour because Dominguez was “grossly impaired and had deteriorated since their last meeting” and the second occurred June 30 when Dominguez refused to leave his cell. 

The third motion was eventually denied by Judge McAdam.

The fourth motion, from the prosecution, involved discussion of the death penalty with the jury. 

“The question of the death penalty is a highly debated issue of public policy in the state of CA right now,” Judge McAdam stated when discussing the process of voir dire in selecting an impartial jury, noting if the jury were questioned on the death penalty, “it would entirely overwhelm the process…and is a far bigger issue than the straightforward issues that I identify in this competency trial.”

However, DDA De Moura claimed because of a witness in the case, John Philipsborn (a lawyer who focuses on competency hearings in death penalty cases), the issue of the death penalty has been “injected in the trial by the defense” and must be discussed in the competency hearing.

While Judge McAdam explained he would prefer a competency hearing without discussion of the death penalty, he acknowledged that both sides seemed interested in pursuing the issue and eventually granted the motion with certain suggestions on how to discuss it during the jury trial.

The last two motions, by defense, were less controversial and were quickly resolved. 

The first motion was to exclude witnesses (minus two investigators) from watching the trial until after their own testimonies. This motion was granted by the court and agreed upon by the prosecution.

The second motion was to prohibit the broadcast and live streaming of the jury trial due to concerns regarding witnesses watching court proceedings before testifying and the sensitive nature of Dominguez’ mental health struggles.

Judge McAdam denied this motion, explaining that it is a “case of high public interest and it’s critical to spread sunshine on a case like this.”

He also noted the benefits of keeping the courthouse doors open to the media, adding that it helps establish confidence in the justice system and helps determine whether or not justice is served.

The jury trial will resume after jurors are vetted and will continue for two weeks. 

If the jury finds Dominguez competent to stand trial, a full trial will be scheduled that will determine his guilt or innocence in the two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and multiple enhancements. If the jury finds Dominguez incompetent to stand trial, he will receive treatment.

About The Author

Madison Whittemore is a rising junior at the University of California, Davis where she studies political science and psychology. After completing her undergraduate studies, Madison wants to go to law school and study criminal law while working to improve efforts for prison reform and representation for lower income citizens.

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