Mental health evaluation postponed for UT stabbing suspect

2:38 p.m Friday, June 9, 2017 Local
Kendrex White in Judge Tamara Needles’ courtroom on May 17.

University of Texas stabbing suspect Kendrex White will not undergo a state-commissioned sanity evaluation — at least not anytime soon — a Travis County district judge ruled Friday.

Judge Tamara Needles’ decision represents a blow to prosecutors with the district attorney’s office who three weeks ago filed a motion stressing the importance of appointing a doctor to assess White’s state of mind on May 1 when he is accused of killing a UT student and injuring three others. They wanted it done quickly, too, fearing White’s mental health could change if they waited.

But Needles, who said she pored over written and oral arguments and related cases, said that it’s too soon for her to approve the evaluation. The decision is not final, she revealed, suggesting that prosecutors consider refiling the motion down the road.

“It’s not timely or appropriate at this time. I think it’s jumping the gun,” Needles said.

The judge also denied a related prosecution motion about trial testimony on White’s mental health. That would come into play only if White, who is charged with murder in the death of 19-year-old Harrison Brown, ends up going to trial.

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White’s defense attorneys — Gabriella Young, Jana Ortega and Krista Chacona — argued the state shouldn’t be permitted to send a doctor to the jail to interview their client. Their motivation, legal experts say, is likely to shield prosecutors from obtaining any additional information about the attack that they could use in building a case against White.

Instead, White’s attorneys sent their own doctor to test him for competency — a legal definition that carries a lower threshold than insanity and confirms that a defendant is aware of what’s going on in the legal proceedings. That test revealed White to be competent, as did a second test ordered by the judge.

The defense attorneys haven’t revealed whether White plans to enter a plea of not guilty by insanity, and they aren’t required by law to do so until 20 days before trial. An insanity defense is rare in Travis County and has succeeded just twice, the most recent in 2014 when a jury found Alexander Ervin had been going through a psychotic episode when he killed his father, Ray Scott Ervin.

White has a decent shot if he goes that route, according to legal analysts, who point to comments he made to police about not remembering the attack, as well as his involuntary admission to a mental health facility shortly before the incident.

Attorneys for both sides declined to comment to the media; Needles weeks ago strongly suggested they refrain from giving interviews.

Needles on Friday went a step further to limit media access, approving a motion from White’s attorneys to ban all video and audio recording in the courtroom for the remainder of the case. The implication is the ban would continue in trial.