Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Man pleads guilty to murdering psychiatrist

But judge rules that defendant was not criminally responsible

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A North Potomac man is guilty of killing his psychiatrist, but not criminally responsible — Maryland’s version of not guilty by reason of insanity — a Circuit Court judge found on Tuesday.

Vitali A. Davydov, 20, pleaded guilty to the first-degree murder of Bethesda psychiatrist Wayne S. Fenton in his North Bethesda office.

Davydov, who suffers from severe mental illness, will be treated at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup, a maximum-security psychiatric hospital, where he’ll be required to stay until doctors determine that he is no longer dangerous.

‘‘I do find by the preponderance of evidence that the defendant is not criminally responsible,” said Judge Marielsa A. Bernard. ‘‘Because of the mental disorder, I do find that the defendant lacked the understanding of criminality of his actions.”

Fenton, 53, was found dead in his office in the 11500 block of Old Georgetown Road on Sept. 3, after a scheduled appointment with Davydov.

In court on Tuesday, Davydov, who spoke slowly with a slur to his words, admitted to killing Fenton, a world-renowned psychiatrist who specialized in treating patients with schizophrenia.

Davydov’s attorney, Barry Helfand asked Davydov if he understood that he was pleading guilty.

‘‘You understand that means you killed Dr. Fenton,” Helfand asked.

‘‘Yes,” Davydov said.

‘‘And you did kill him, didn’t you,” Helfand asked.

Again, Davydov responded, ‘‘Yes.”

According to police and District Court charging documents, Fenton, a leading expert on mental health and schizophrenia, had agreed to meet Davydov for an emergency appointment to discuss his treatment for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder on Sept. 3. During the meeting, Davydov became agitated and beat Fenton with his fists. Davydov left the office with Fenton on the ground, bleeding from his face.

When Davydov’s father came to pick his son up from the appointment, he noticed blood on his son’s pants, hands and shirt and called 911. He provided a description of his son, who was found and arrested by police.

In the nine months leading up to Fenton’s murder, Davydov was spiraling deeper and deeper into psychosis, according to State’s Attorney John McCarthy.

Referring to a report by psychiatrists at Perkins Hospital, where Davydov has been held since he was arrested last September, McCarthy said Davydov was delusional, had auditory hallucinations, believed that he received messages from television and had an obsessive belief that his fraternal twin brother had been sexually abused and was in danger.

Since about February 2006, Davydov’s parents had taken him to several different psychiatrists who diagnosed him with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and had tried to treat him with medication.

But, according to McCarthy, Davydov was afraid to take his medication because he thought it would allow the psychiatrists to control his mind.

By the time Fenton saw Davydov in September, Davydov had not regularly taken medication for about two months, McCarthy said.

Fenton saw Davydov for the first time the day before the murder, when Davydov believed that Fenton asked Davydov to kill him, McCarthy said.

Davydov believed that ‘‘Dr. Fenton asked [Davydov] to kill him because he had been the victim of a rape and wanted his soul to leave his body,” McCarthy said. ‘‘[Davydov] believed that if he took medication, psychiatrists would be able to control and read his mind. He thought if he killed Dr. Fenton, his real body would live on.”

After Davydov asked his parents to see Fenton again, his father, Albert Davydov, drove his son to Fenton’s office for an emergency appointment. Albert Davydov waited in the parking lot for about 15 minutes after dropping his son off and then found him outside of Fenton’s office covered in blood. He also saw Fenton unconscious and bleeding inside his office.

In court, McCarthy played a recording of the 911 call Albert Davydov made.

‘‘[Fenton] was beaten up by my son. He is lying unconscious on the floor....,” Albert Davydov told a 911 operator. ‘‘There is a lot of blood. ...He’s not breathing. He was beaten up by my son. My son is mentally ill. I’m trying to break the window to get inside because I think [Fenton] needs help.”

Fenton was dead when police arrived.

Davydov had told police that he had beaten Fenton with his hands. An autopsy report said that Fenton died from blunt force trauma and had 24 separate injuries, including a broken nose, multiple brain injuries and a fractured voice box, McCarthy said.

Fenton was a leading psychiatrist and researcher. In addition to treating patients in his private practice, he served as director of the Division of Adult Translational Research and associate director for clinical affairs at the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

‘‘The awful irony is that a world renowned psychiatrist was the victim in this case,” McCarthy said.