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Louisiana Tech stabbing suspect committed to mental facility

Judge: District Attorney declined to challenge appeals court ruling
Caleb Daniel
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Jacoby Johnson, who faces murder and attempted murder charges in the Nov. 13, 2023 stabbing attack on Louisiana Tech University campus, has been committed to the custody of a forensic hospital in Jackson, north of Baton Rouge. Claiming he hears voices, Johnson will be evaluated and treated there until it is determined he is mentally fit to stand trial.

The man accused of killing one woman and wounding three more in a stabbing spree on Louisiana Tech University campus has been turned over to a forensic hospital in Jackson, where he will remain until psychologists determine he is mentally fit to stand trial.

That’s the result of a state appeals court decision to overturn a previous ruling from ad hoc Judge Chet Traylor — a decision Traylor said Tuesday that 3rd Judicial District Attorney John Belton opted not to appeal, overruling other prosecutors on his staff.

“Some of the assistant DA’s were in favor of appealing the (Second Circuit Court of Appeal) ruling but were overruled by the DA himself,” a disgruntled Traylor said from the bench at a Tuesday afternoon hearing.

Jacoby Johnson, a 24-year-old former Tech student, faces charges of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder for allegedly killing local artist Annie Richardson with a knife outside Tech’s Lambright Sports and Wellness Center and wounding three others on Nov. 13, 2023.

In January Traylor ruled Johnson was mentally competent to proceed to trial, but earlier this month the Second Circuit overturned that, compelling Traylor to allow Johnson to be committed to the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System in Jackson for psychological testing and treatment.

When asked for comment, Belton said Traylor’s contention that he and his staff were divided on whether to appeal the Second Circuit’s ruling was inaccurate. Belton was not present at Tuesday’s hearing.

Traylor said he found the Second Circuit’s ruling “very confusing,” saying the appellate judges misrepresented his reasons for finding Johnson fit to stand trial.

“I know I’m not the sharpest knife, but I’m damn sure I’m not stupid,” Traylor said.

Psychologist Charles Vosburg and psychiatrist Dr. Dennis Clay Kelly, as Johnson’s court-appointed sanity commission, reported that Johnson told them he experiences “auditory hallucinations,” such as voices telling him to harm himself and others.

The pair wrote in a report to Traylor that they couldn’t determine from interviewing Johnson whether these hallucinations were an ongoing condition, a temporary drug-induced one, or simply fake. They recommended he be committed to ELMHS for further testing until his competence to stand trial could be determined. Both are affiliated with the forensic hospital there.

At a January hearing, Traylor argued Vosburg and Kelly weren’t conclusive about Johnson’s competence one way or another in their report, whereas Lincoln Parish Detention Center nurse Jennifer Plunkett testified she saw no sign of hallucinations or other concerning behavior when she examined Johnson in solitary confinement.

Traylor said Tuesday he took issue with the Second Circuit’s assertion that Traylor valued Plunkett’s testimony more than the doctors’.

“(Kelly and Vosburg) saw no defects in the defendant’s competency in assisting his counsel with his defense,” Traylor said, quoting an excerpt of the sanity report.

Standing at all of 5 feet, 5 inches, Johnson shuffled meekly into the courtroom Tuesday before the start of proceedings, prison jumpsuit still accentuated by the pair of taped-up glasses that he reportedly broke in a fit of rage while in solitary confinement the month after the attack, on the day he would have graduated from Tech.

Traylor seemed disappointed Belton’s office opted not to appeal the Second Circuit’s ruling but did not elaborate on the subject.

Assistant District Attorney Lewis Jones was the only representative of Belton’s office present at Tuesday’s hearing. He declined to comment.

At Jones’ request, Traylor set a sanity review for Johnson for July 16, to “see where we stand,” saying he doubted anything would be different by that time.

The Forensic Division of ELMHS is typically where criminal defendants across the state are sent when deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial. Johnson cannot be released to the public without first being sent back to the Ruston court for trial.

When that will happen, if ever, isn’t clear.

As Traylor dismissed court, he aired his displeasure one more time.

“I am still 100% convinced I was correct,” he said.