Judge: Nashville man not competent to stand trial

Dana Ericson doesn’t understand the charges against him and can’t assist his lawyer in his own defense, a judge has ruled.

That makes Ericson, 59, incompetent to stand trial at this time for allegedly attacking a foreign exchange student with a hatchet in downtown Nashville, Judge Judith Stewart said.

Dana Ericson is escorted out of the Brown County Courthouse by jail commander Tony Sciscoe following a competency hearing April 11.
Dana Ericson is escorted out of the Brown County Courthouse by jail commander Tony Sciscoe following a competency hearing April 11.

For 90 days, Ericson will be committed to the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction in an attempt to restore his competency.

Deputy Prosecutor James T. Roberts said it is “highly unlikely” that Ericson will not stand trial for the charges against him, which include attempted murder, aggravated battery and battery causing serious injury.

“He’ll be able to reach that point again with appropriate treatment,” said Dr. George Parker during the April 11 hearing.

Two doctors — Parker and Dr. Don Olive — interviewed and evaluated Ericson and both concluded that he  was not competent.

“Mr. Ericson is a bright person … who is able to understand when psychologically able to,” Parker said.

Ericson is accused of attacking 18-year-old Brown County High School student Zhang “Z” Yue with a hatchet in February while she was taking pictures for a high school photography class.

Yue is from China.

Ericson admitted to police that he struck Yue because she is Asian. He said he was attempting “ethnic cleansing” and called himself a white supremacist.

Yue was treated at Columbus Regional Hospital for a wound that hit close to her spinal column. She was released that evening to her host family.

Gaining competency

Ericson’s jury trial was to start May 25. It will now be postponed for at least 90 days.

Olive said in his report that if Ericson were to go to trial as scheduled his mental status would continue to deteriorate.

Jail commander Tony Sciscoe told the court that Ericson has been in a padded cell, wearing a suicide smock.

“I feel each day he is getting worse. He is yelling out continuously and nothing he says makes sense,” Sciscoe wrote March 4.

Ericson appeared in person for this hearing; for past hearings, he had been on videoconference from the jail.

Both hands were cuffed as he sat next to his public defender, Jacob Moore.

Ericson’s 99-year-old mother also attended.

Ericson called the jail a “toxic place” and said he was being tortured by jail staff who were aware of his thoughts and could project thoughts into his mind.

He has been held in solitary confinement since the Feb. 18 attack.

Ericson asked Stewart to move him to a hospital to receive help. “I am a sick man,” he said.

He said he has a hard time thinking clearly.

“I am a gentle man. I wouldn’t harm a fly,” he told the group gathered in the small hearing room, calling the whole situation an “outrageous nightmare.”

He spoke of the need for “authentic civilization” and “authentic justice.” He said Sweden has the “best medicine” for him.

“But I don’t think I’ll get to Sweden,” he said before being escorted back to jail.

Olive said the probability of Ericson regaining competency is high after he undergoes three to six months of treatment.

Parker suggested sending him to the Logansport State Hospital, which has a higher level of security than any other hospital in the state.

Parker has evaluated Ericson for three previous cases. Ericson has a history of violent crime and of time spent in psychiatric hospitals, according to online court records.

Hate crime?

If Ericson is convicted of attempted murder in an Indiana court, the maximum sentence is 40 years.

That sentence could be enhanced to life in prison if the Federal Bureau of Investigation determines that the attack was a hate crime. Then, Ericson would be tried in federal court, and could be convicted of attempted murder with a hate crime component.

Indiana is one of the few states that do not classify acts as hate crimes for criminal or sentence-enhancement purposes.

The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole, or in part, by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.”

The April 11 ruling on Ericson’s competency will not affect the FBI’s investigation into the attack, spokeswoman Cathy Burton said.

Roberts said he, Prosecutor Ted Adams and Stewart want a fair trial for Ericson.

“These are difficult, difficult matters to deal with. I think the legal procedure that we have in this state is very fair for dealing with persons with his kind of disabilities. I know that the system will deal with it and Judge Stewart will deal with it very fairly,” he said.