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Judge is now reviewing Demagall competency for trial

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HUDSON–Though the judge has not yet issued his ruling, the retrial of accused murderer William S. Demagall may not go forward any time soon.

Mr. Demagall, 26, appeared before Judge Jonathan Nichols in Columbia County Court November 17 with his attorney, Richard Mott, for a conference regarding doctors’ findings about his competency to stand trial again.

Shackled, his head shaved and wearing black-and-white striped prison attire, Mr. Demagall remained quiet during the brief conference.

On December 8, 2006, a Columbia County Court jury convicted Mr. Demagall, then 23, of Southfield, Mass., in the February 11, 2006 stabbing/bludgeoning death of George Mancini, 56, a retired schoolteacher, at Mr. Mancini’s home on Breezy Hill Road, just off Route 23 in Hillsdale.

Mr. Demagall had escaped from the Jones III psychiatric ward at the Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield less than two days before he allegedly repeatedly stabbed Mr. Mancini, beat him with a glass paperweight stuffed in a sock and then set his body on fire.

Mr. Demagall’s second-degree murder conviction was reversed in a state Supreme Court, Appellate Division decision issued April 2 of this year. The decision called for the judgment against Mr. Demagall to be reversed and also for Mr. Demagall to get a new trial before a different judge.

Columbia County Court Judge Paul Czajka, who presided over the trial, sentenced Mr. Demagall to the maximum sentence of 25 years to life on March 21, 2007.

Mr. Demagall “claimed to have received a vision from God directing him to kill the victim, a person with whom he had a brief encounter a couple of weeks earlier and whom he believed provided drugs to minors,” wrote the appellate court judges, who focused their reversal decision on the report of Stuart Kleinman, a forensic psychiatrist, the first expert engaged by the prosecution before trial. Dr. Kleinman’s conclusions were used to support Mr. Demagall’s plea of not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect.

Judge Czajka rejected the plea because he said Dr. Kleinman provided “insufficient evidence.” And Judge Czajka cited Dr. Kleinman’s statement in his report that the defendant knew his conduct in killing Mr. Mancini was illegal and wrong.

The appellate judges found that the “County Court’s misapprehension of the law contributed to a prejudicial error at trial regarding defendant’s efforts to comment on the failure of [the prosecution] to produce Kleinman at trial.”

When Mr. Mott told the court he planned to point out in his summation that Dr. Alan Tuckman was the prosecution’s second expert to examine Mr. Demagall, he was not permitted to do so by the judge.

“The court reiterated its early (incorrect) determination that Kleinman’s opinion was premised upon a wrong application of the law regarding insanity. Defense counsel also requested a missing witness charge [to the jury], which the County Court denied,” wrote the appellate court. “The failure of the People to produce Kleinman met the preconditions for a missing witness charge,” said the appellate judges.

Mr. Demagall’s retrial in county court, this time before Judge Jonathan Nichols, is set to begin with jury selection November 30.

In court Tuesday, Judge Nichols, who now has the case, said that reports based on Mr. Demagall’s psychiatric evaluation have been submitted and are in agreement that Mr. Demagall “lacks the capacity to proceed with criminal proceedings.”

When asked by the judge if either side wanted to be heard at a hearing on the results, Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Cozzolino, who originally prosecuted the case, told the judge he did not require a hearing because Mr. Mott had allowed Senior Assistant District Attorney David Costanzo to be present during the evaluations. Mr. Cozzolino said there would be “nothing left to explore at a hearing.”

Mr. Mott also saw no reason for a hearing as long as the judge “makes the requisite finding” that Mr. Demagall is mentally incapacitated.

Judge Nichols said he would issue a decision this week.   

If the judge finds Mr. Demagall incapacitated, he would then be housed at a state prison psychiatric facility until he is competent to stand trial.

To contact reporter Diane Valden email dvalden@ColumbiaPaper.com. 
 

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