NEW YORK – A schizophrenic accused of murdering a psychotherapist with a meat cleaver was ruled mentally unfit Tuesday for trial, indefinitely delaying a trial that came close to starting but has long been rocked by uncertainty about his mental state.
The decision means David Tarloff will be sent to a state hospital for treatment until doctors find he has improved enough to stand trial — if they ever do. He has varied between findings of fitness and incompetence since his 2008 arrest in Kathryn Faughey's death in her Manhattan office.
The ruling came after two psychiatrists found Tarloff incompetent for trial, and a prosecutor said he refused to cooperate with a third exam, leaving that doctor unable to reach a conclusion about his fitness and prosecutors unable to challenge it.
"Consequently, I have to commit Mr. Tarloff," state Supreme Court Justice Edward McLaughlin said. "There is little doubt that ... Mr. Tarloff has had documentable periods of unfitness."
Tarloff, 42, is accused of killing Faughey as part of a peculiar robbery plot targeting her office mate. Tarloff has planned an insanity defense, which involves different standards than mental competence for trial.
Given to delusions that he's the Messiah and that God and the devil speak to him, Tarloff has a long history of psychiatric hospitalizations, his lawyer and psychiatrists have said.
He told police he went to Faughey's office to rob the psychiatrist who shared it, Dr. Kent Shinbach. He'd been involved in Tarloff's first hospitalization — 17 years before.
Tarloff's goal was to get $50,000 from Shinbach to whisk his mother out of a nursing home and take her to Hawaii, he said in a video-recorded statement.
He encountered Faughey first and believed she was going to kill him, he told authorities.
Faughey was slashed 15 times, and Shinbach was seriously hurt trying to help her, authorities said. The attacker fled; investigators ultimately matched Tarloff's palm prints with some found on a suitcase — filled with women's clothing and adult diapers — left in the building.
He was deemed mentally incompetent for trial for about a year after his arrest, but doctors said last year that his condition had improved.
Being competent for trial means being able to understand court proceedings and help in one's defense. It doesn't rule out an insanity defense, which requires showing that a person was so mentally ill when committing a crime that he or she didn't know it was wrong.
Jury selection was nearly finished last month when Tarloff refused to leave a courthouse holding cell or respond to questions, his lawyers said. After being taken back to Bellevue Hospital, he stripped naked and ran around a psychiatric ward, according to his lawyer.
Two court-system psychiatrists found Tarloff mentally unfit to proceed, and then prosecutors had another expert evaluate him.
During that exam, Tarloff "shut down" and stopped speaking, Manhattan assistant district attorney Evan Krutoy said. Tarloff's lawyer, Bryan Konoski, said his client had started talking to himself and then abruptly froze, wide-eyed, during the exam.
As for the future, "I think it's possible that he'll be found fit enough to return to court" at some point, Konoski said. "But I'm not sure he'll ever be fit enough to withstand the stresses of a full murder trial."
Faughey's relatives said Tuesday's developments wouldn't diminish their determination to see the case through; some of her siblings have attended every one of Tarloff's court appearances.
"We've been through this a few times," brother Owen Faughey said.
Kathryn Faughey, 56, specialized in helping people with relationships.