UPDATED: Competency Contested in Deoni Jones Case

Trial of suspect in 2012 killing of transgender woman delayed, tentative trial start set for 2014

On the day that a D.C. Council bill named in memory of the murdered transgender woman Deoni Jones unanimously passed the first of two required votes, less than a mile away in D.C. Superior Court the case against the man suspected of killing Jones was delayed further. This time, the delay followed an objection by the defense this morning over a mental evaluation that found the 56-year-old suspect competent to stand trial.

Gary Niles Montgomery, of Northeast Washington, is accused of fatally stabbing Jones in the face while the 22-year-old waited at a bus stop in the city’s Benning Heights neighborhood on the evening of Feb. 2, 2012. He faces a charge of first-degree murder while armed.

In court, Montgomery’s attorney, Colle Latin, officially contested the results of a mental-evaluation report by staff at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, where Montgomery was temporarily placed earlier this year. Latin’s contesting the findings prompted Judge Robert Morin to schedule another mental-observation hearing – his third such hearing since his arrest in mid-February 2012.

Morin scheduled Montgomery’s mental-observation hearing for Jan. 6, 2014, and pushed his tentative trial date to April 14, 2014, meaning that the earliest Montgomery could stand trial would be two years and two months after Jones was killed.

Montgomery was initially found competent to stand trial in March 2012, but the case was not allowed to proceed due to the failure of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia to obtain an indictment until November 2012. Montgomery also switched defense lawyers, further delaying court proceedings.

Following the indictment, Montgomery’s lawyers raised questions about his competency, and Morin ordered Montgomery to submit to mental-health evaluations at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

According to the report from St. Elizabeth’s, Montgomery was able to comprehend various details about the charges against him, the degree of severity of the charges and the possible sentence he could face if found guilty. Psychiatrists observed that Montgomery demonstrated an ability to modify his legal strategy and plea option when faced with hypothetical scenarios that might arise in the course of a trial.

The mental-evaluation report details that Montgomery ”did not demonstrate any signs of mental illness during this evaluation” and ”demonstrated an adequate factual and rational understanding of the proceedings against him.” While the report diagnosed Montgomery with ”Psychotic Disorder Not Otherwise Specified” and ”Hallucinogen Abuse,” the report’s authors, St. Elizabeth’s CEO Patrick Canavan and KyleeAnn Stevens, the director of forensic services at St. Elizabeth’s, recommended that Montgomery continue to take anti-psychotic medication, but ruled that it was not necessary to keep him at St. Elizabeth’s, thereby facilitating his transfer to the D.C. Jail and allowing the case against him to proceed.

Montgomery remains held without bond as he awaits the third mental-observation hearing.

UPDATE: Hassan Naveed, co-chair of the anti-hate crime group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV), issued a statement blasting the government for failing to aggressively pursue the case.

“The delay prolongs the pain and suffering of Deoni Jones’s family,” Naveed said. “It is critical for the court to act fast and show its commitment to ending these vicious hate crimes. Our city has faced a decade-long trend of targeted and often lethal violence against the transgender community, it is time for the courts to take it seriously.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com