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It’s been more than three years since transgender youth Deoni Jones was stabbed to death on February 2, 2012.
On Friday morning, a mental observation hearing in D.C. Superior Court determined that Gary Niles Montgomery, who faces a charge of first-degree murder, is competent to stand trial for his actions on the night in question. Whether that finding will actually lead to a conviction remains less clear.
Lawyers for Montgomery have previously contested three separate findings — in March 2012, April 2013 and February 2014 — that Montgomery understands the charges against him and would be able to mount a credible defense. They’ve called into question the nature and validity of prior mental health screenings by staff at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Southeast Washington, where most criminal defendants whose mental capacity is called into question are housed, monitored and given psychiatric treatment in lieu of being held inside the D.C. Jail. Montgomery has been housed at the hospital since January 2013. In December, Montgomery’s legal team indicated they would be pursuing a defense that he was “not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI),” meaning he would not stand trial but would be permanently sentenced to St. Elizabeth’s for ongoing psychiatric care.
Only once — in December 2013 — was Montgomery ever declared incompetent to stand trial. Every other time he has been found competent, and — despite being prescribed psychiatric medication — according to a 2013 report from mental health professionals at St. Elizabeth’s, “demonstrated an adequate factual and rational understanding of the proceedings against him, and has exhibited a sufficient present ability to assist his attorney in crafting a defense with a reasonable degree of rational understanding.” In fact, the report’s authors were even more explicit, stating that Montgomery demonstrated an ability to modify his legal strategy and plea options when faced with hypothetical scenarios that might arise during a trial.
Following the finding of competency, Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin scheduled a status hearing and mental observation hearing for April 7, at which point the defense will announced whether they intend to contest the findings of competency and whether they will continue to pursue an NGRI defense. In the meantime, Montgomery will continue to be housed at St. Elizabeth’s and be monitored by staff. Morin had previously ordered both Montgomery’s legal team and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia to agree to and draft, jointly, a proposed order directing and spelling out the specific requirements of the competency examination to which Montgomery was to submit during this last round of evaluations.
The delay in the case has rankled close friends and family members of Jones, most notably her parents, Judean Jones and Alvin Bethea, who have complained to the Office of Ronald Machen, the outgoing U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, about what they see as a lack of urgency on the part of several assistant U.S. attorneys in pursuing a conviction or other speedy resolution to their daughter’s murder.
The anti-hate crimes group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence (GLOV) issued its own statement in response to Friday’s development.
“The family of Deoni Jones and the LGBT community has had to wait three long years to see justice,” Paul Tupper, chair of GLOV, said in a statement. “Hopefully today’s development gets us closer to that day.”
Jones was stabbed on Feb. 2, 2012 while standing at the bus stop at the corner of East Capitol Street and Sycamore Road NE. According to charging documents in the case, witnesses who saw the attack on Jones told police they saw a man matching Montgomery’s description strike Jones in the head, causing her to fall to the ground. Upon closer observation, the witnesses realized Jones had been stabbed and called over a Metro Transit Police Department officer, who wired for D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services. Paramedics rushed Jones to Prince George’s County Hospital Center in Cheverly, Md., where she died of her injuries in the early morning hours of Feb. 3.
Editor’s Note: This post was updated to include a statement from Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence.
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