Doctors from Connecticut Valley Hospital: Wang competent to stand trial on murder charge in New Haven
NEW HAVEN >> Doctors at Connecticut Valley Hospital have recommended that a judge rule Dr. Lishan Wang competent to stand trial in the slaying of a medical colleague in Branford seven years ago.
Three of the medical experts testified Friday that since Feb. 22, when Wang began forcibly receiving olanzapine, an anti-psychotic mood stabilizer, he is more “focused,” less angry and shows a better understanding of the criminal charges he faces.
But Superior Court Judge Thomas V. O’Keefe Jr. did not make a ruling Friday because Wang’s defense team has hired a forensic psychiatrist who will evaluate Wang and study the report of the CVH experts.
Wang, now 51, is charged with murder in the death of Dr. Vajinder Toor in April 2010 outside Toor’s Branford condominium. Wang also is charged with attempted murder for allegedly firing a weapon at Toor’s pregnant wife, who escaped injury by ducking behind a car. Wang faces weapons counts, too.
The doctors said Wang has complained of feeling “sedated” as a result of the medication. His demeanor and focus in the courtroom, which would be an issue in his trial, were the source of a brief exchange of views Friday.
Wang was dressed in a black zippered jacket, gray sweatpants and white sneakers. He appeared to be less engaged in the proceedings than in his previous court appearances. As he sat between his two attorneys, he did not look at the witnesses who were testifying and his eyes often seemed to be closed. But he did periodically consult with his attorneys.
When Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Gene Calistro Jr. asked Dr. Mark Cotterell, who led the CVH evaluation of Wang, to describe his demeanor in court Friday, Coterell said, “He appears to be calm.”
“Is he awake?” Calistro asked.
“Yes,” Cotterell said. “He has initiated conversations with his attorneys.”
This prompted New Haven Public Defender Thomas Ullmann to tell O’Keefe: “He has not ‘initiated’ anything with us.”
Wang did not speak during the 2½-hour hearing, other than to exchange greetings with O’Keefe.
In his testimony, Cotterell reiterated the conclusions and recommendations of a 14-page report he wrote with Dr. Lori Hauser, a clinical psychologist at CVH, and its chief of forensic services, Dr. Reena Kapoor. The report was dated April 19.
“It is the unanimous opinion of the undersigned and the treatment team that Dr. Lishan Wang now demonstrates a sufficient understanding of the proceedings against him and has the capacity to assist in his own defense,” the report stated.
The three doctors wrote that before the medication began, Wang was “frequently disjointed, tangential, perseverative and circular in discussions of his legal matters or in attempts to resolve minor clashes with staff on the unit.” They added he often expressed “suspicious and paranoid ideas.”
Since the twice-daily doses of medication began, however, they noted Wang has become “more focused and better able to ‘let go’ of ancillary issues that preoccupied his thinking in the past.”
Over the past few weeks, they added, “he has demonstrated greater flexibility, more openness, a more focused point of view and the ability to consider others’ advice.”
“In light of these conclusions,” they wrote, “it is the recommendation of Connecticut Valley Hospital that Dr. Wang be found competent to stand trial at the next hearing on this matter.”
However, the report also said the doctors stand behind their diagnosis of Wang: “unspecified schizophrenia/psychotic disorder.”
Cotterell testified that, after the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld O’Keefe’s order of forced medication and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case, Wang remained “quite adamant he did not wish to be medicated.” Cotterell said Wang has insisted he is not mentally ill and so he asserts he does not need any medication.
Cotterell said Wang was given the choice of having the drug injected or taken orally. Wang refused to swallow the pills, so for the first several weeks he was given injections.
Ullmann asked Cotterell whether Wang had to be physically restrained for the injections.
“That is exactly what happened,” Cotterell replied.
When Ullmann asked how that was done, Cotterell said, “Hospital staff held him down while he was injected.” He said Wang was in his bed while this was happening.
“Were straps used?” Ullmann asked.
“Yes,” Cotterell replied.
Ullmann and co-counsel Angelica Papastavros had objected to the forced medication on the grounds it was cruel, violated Wang’s rights and might hinder his ability to assist in his defense. They lost that battle in the higher court rulings.
Cotterell said that by early March Wang agreed to take the medication voluntarily and orally. He is given a total of 30 milligrams daily in morning and evening doses.
Calistro asked Cotterell whether he had seen Wang’s legal motions written before the medication began, including one entitled “Motion to not let the devil prevail.” Cotterell said he did recall seeing that one.
Cotterell told Calistro that Wang’s motions since the medication have been more rational and focused.
“Minus any references to Satan?” Calistro asked.
“Correct,” said Cotterell.
But Cotterell said Wang is still “ambivalent” about whether he wants to seek the court’s permission to again represent himself during a trial. Wang had conducted his own legal defense until O’Keefe ruled him incompetent in April 2015 and appointed Ullmann as his attorney.
In other testimony Friday, Hauser and Gail Sicilia, the court-appointed health care guardian for Wang, said they, too, believe he is now competent to stand trial.
Sicilia said Wang told her he is less coordinated because of the medication and finds it more difficult to play basketball.
She said he also told him he is depressed, but was more depressed previously. “He said he’s a 6 on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being the worst.”
“I think it’s a recurrent depression,” she said. But she doesn’t think it’s severe enough that he would consider killing himself.
Call Randall Beach at 203-680-9345.