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Alexandria judge orders medication in Shifflett case

An Alexandria circuit judge has ordered the forced medication of a man accused of killing 8-year-old Kevin Shifflett last April.

Judge Alfred D. Swersky said prosecutors had presented evidence that forced treatment with anipsychotic drugs was medically appropriate for defendant Gregory Devon Murphy.

The issue facing the court was what type of treatment should be administered to restore his mental capacity to stand trial.

The debate focused on whether Murphy’s delusional behavior and paranoia were caused by schizophrenia or neurosyphilis, tied to his 1993 bout with syphilis.

Murphy’s defense lawyers argued for the latter. They presented testimony by a psychiatrist who said that some of Murphy’s symptoms, including memory and visual impairment and tremors, are not caused by schizophrenia.

“Checking the cerebral spinal fluid is the only way to rule out neurosyphilis,” the psychiatrist, Dr. Neil Blumberg, said.

Defense experts said that a spinal tap could show if Murphy’s psychiatric problems were caused by an organic illness that could be treated by antibiotics, instead of forced psychotropic drugs.

The prosecution countered with witnesses of their own, who said paranoid schizophrenia was the cause of Murphy’s problems, and antipsychotic drugs were the appropriate treatment, since group therapy, education and other less intrusive treatments had not improved his condition.

“The fact is that the defendant is incompetent because he suffers from a mental illness,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney S. Randolph Sengel.

“It’s only common sense to treat a mental illness. But he’s refused an MRI. He’s refused a spinal tap. Nowhere does it say that a defendant has the right to avoid a trial in a case as compelling as this.”

Swersky said he would allow Murphy’s doctors to give him a spinal tap or any other treatment they consider appropriate.

After the ruling, Murphy’s lawyers, Joseph N. Bowman and Joseph J. McCarthy, immediately asked Swersky for a stay of his order, to give them time to seek a temporary restraining order from a federal judge.

Swersky denied their request. They then went to federal court.

Doctors do not know how long it will take to restore Murphy to competence.

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