After hearing testimony from doctors that Travis Boys played chess and tried to ferment wine during his stay at a state mental hospital, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman on Thursday declared the alleged cop killer competent to stand trial.
Herman called off jury selection on Oct. 18 after Boys, 35, smeared feces on his face and ate it in front of potential jurors. But Herman said she is now convinced Boys was trying to fake mental illness in an attempt to avoid prosecution in connection with the 2015 killing of New Orleans Police Officer Daryle Holloway.
“In my opinion, he exhibited clearly manipulative behavior on Oct. 18 and hijacked the course of court proceedings then, and that now has been confirmed as malingering,” she said. “He will no longer be allowed to control these proceedings. It will be back to being as it should be."
Herman set a new trial date of March 19.
Defense attorney Billy Sothern said he planned to appeal the judge's competency ruling.
Boys entered the courtroom Thursday flanked by deputies before he sat down and listened to more than four hours of testimony about his mental health.
He is accused of fatally shooting Holloway while Boys was being transported to jail in June 2015 for allegedly shooting at his wife during a domestic incident on Peace Court.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro initially sought the death penalty for Boys, but he later dropped that request in order to speed the trial along.
During Boys' recent 20-day stay at the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System hospital in Jackson, he took drugs meant to address his symptoms of psychosis and depression. He also submitted to a series of examinations from psychiatrists and a psychologist trying to determine whether he was feigning mental illness to avoid a trial and possible life sentence.
The doctors said that Boys was sullen and uncooperative during their formal examinations and could not say where a judge was supposed to sit in the courtroom when asked, said Dr. John Thompson, the chief of staff at the hospital.
“They were obvious answers that we thought he should be able to answer even with his history of some intellectual disability,” Thompson said.
But Boys was a different patient altogether — more upbeat and more attentive — when he retreated to his wing of the hospital. He repeatedly asked for packages he was expecting. He hoarded fruit in his room to make wine. He also played chess with another patient.
“There’s a discrepancy between what we see when he knows he’s being evaluated and what we see when he’s not being evaluated,” Thompson said.
Boys reported hearing the voices of his dead mother and “little demons” who told him to harm himself or others. But his hallucinations were inconsistent with those of other patients, Thompson said.
The hospital concluded in a report that there was a “high degree of suspicion” that Boys was faking his mental illness.
Sothern pressed Thompson and the other doctors over whether Boys was hospitalized long enough to determine whether he was competent. Thompson said 20 days is on the low end for how long patients stay at the hospital.
The defense called another doctor, Tulane Medical Center psychiatrist Brad McConville, who said he still does not believe Boys can understand his legal rights.
McConville said he does not dispute that Boys is faking at least some of his symptoms. But that does not mean he does not suffer from psychosis and intellectual disabilities, he said. And it does not mean that he understands the legal concepts he needs to go to trial.
“Just because he can play dumb and make life difficult on all his examiners doesn’t mean he actually understands,” McConville said.
Those comments were echoed by Sothern, who told the judge that Boys is failing to cooperate with evaluations ordered by his own defense team. That will hamstring Sothern's plan to argue that Boys is not guilty by reason of insanity, he said.
“We can’t get our client to engage in the fairly basic tools of representation, in this instance a forensic interview. It renders us unable to provide him with the defense that he deserves,” Sothern said.
However, Assistant District Attorney Inga Petrovich said the only obstacle standing between Boys and a trial is his own desire to avoid prosecution.
“Mr. Boys’ competency is not at issue. What’s at issue is his willingness to go forward,” she said. “He doesn’t want to be found competent because he knows we will be setting a trial date.”