Evaluation: Man competent to stand trial on charges in fatal shooting

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 09-29-2021 9:19 PM

CHELSEA — A 70-year-old man who is charged with killing his adult daughter when she went to bring him cookies at his Newbury, Vt., home is suffering from mental delusions but nonetheless is competent to stand trial, according to a psychiatric evaluation and court order on Wednesday.

James D. Perry Jr., who has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and reckless endangerment in the May 3 shotgun death of his daughter, 38-year-old Newbury resident Karina Rheaume, appeared at a brief competency hearing in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea on Wednesday morning where Judge Thomas Zonay ruled Perry is fit to stand trial “at this time.”

Perry had requested to be in the Chelsea courtroom with his attorney, Michael Shane, because of hearing issues, rather than attending remotely from Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, Vt., where he is being held without bail.

Perry joined with his attorney in thanking the judge for accommodating his hearing problem.

Both Shane and Orange County State’s Attorney Dickson Corbett stipulated that Perry at this time is competent to stand trial and agreed to the admission of the court-ordered psychiatric evaluation.

But Shane said the defense team has retained experts who will be meeting with Perry, but noted that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they have faced difficulty in getting into the prison to visit their client and hence the reason for delays.

Perry is “being evaluated” by the defense’s team which will “take another look into competency,” Shane said outside the Chelsea courthouse after the hearing. Although the defense did not present any challenge on Wednesday to the court-ordered evaluation of Perry, “that could change,” he noted.

Perry’s court-ordered psychiatric evaluation details his troubled mental state in the months leading up to the attack.

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The 10-page evaluation, prepared by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Matthew Gaskins following a 2-hour, 15-minute teleconference in July, concluded that Perry “meets the diagnostic criteria for Delusional Disorder Persecutory Type,” which is defined by “the presence of one or more delusions lasting for longer than one month.”

The evaluation recounted a police affidavit that said Perry had told police he shot his daughter at “point-blank range” when she had come to his home with a platter of cookies to check up on his welfare. An autopsy found Rheaume was killed by shotgun wounds to the head and torso.

Her visit had been preceded by warnings from Perry to family members to stay away, according to the affidavit.

Perry “believed his family and neighbor(s) were going to kill him, and he had told them not to come to his residence in the days leading up to May 3,” the affidavit said. But Perry’s mental state, which was of growing concern among family members, had been deteriorating in the prior months, according to both the affidavit and Gaskins’ evaluation. He wrote that Perry began “feeling suspicious that someone was trying to harm him” at the beginning of the year during what Perry called “ ‘Capitol insurrection’ ” of Jan. 6, Gaskins wrote.

By March and April, Perry “believed one of his neighbors was providing a haven for ‘these paramilitary’ people who were trying to harm him,” the evaluation said. Those suspicions grew when a neighbor asked Perry if he could hunt on his property.

At the same time, Perry — who was self-isolating at home during the pandemic — said a neighbor told him he had Special Forces and SEAL Team 6 members at his house who were looking for “an expert terrorist.”

Perry said that he had asked the paramilitary men who was giving them orders, and “they responded saying they were following the orders of (President) Trump,” the evaluation said.

“Delusion,” Gaskins explained in his report, is a “fixed, false belief that does not respond to contrary information.”

The “persecutory” description in Perry’s diagnosis stems from Perry’s “primary delusion being a belief he has been persecuted by a group that he believed included his neighbor, paramilitary members and local law enforcement,” Gaskins wrote.

At the time of the evaluation in July, Gaskins said, Perry “was continuing to believe some of these delusional thoughts but is accepting of some contradicting information showing he is likely in partial remission.”

But the evaluation at the same time drew a sharp distinction between Perry’s past and ongoing delusions and his capacity to understand why he is facing trial and the legal process. Gaskins asked detailed questions to Perry about the nature of the charges and legal proceedings, which required Perry to define legal terms and definitions as they relate to his case. Perry provided lucid and clearheaded answers, according to the evaluation.

“His understanding of legal procedure was significantly above average,” Gaskins wrote.

“Perry has a sufficient factual and rational understanding of his current charges and has the capacity to assist his defense attorney in the preparation of a defense,” the evaluation said.

“While he continues to endorse delusional beliefs, these did not prevent him from intelligently and accurately discussing his case including the evidence likely to be used against him,” the evaluation concluded.

Perry was returned to jail and was to be evaluated soon by one of the experts arranged by his defense.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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