Doctor OKs suspect for trial in hatchet attack case

A Nashville man found incompetent in April to stand trial for attempted murder on a foreign exchange student has been restored to mental competency, a doctor has decided.

But the prosecutor says it’s unlikely that Dana Ericson, 60, will go to trial in November.

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Dana Ericson

According to a court order filed Aug. 24, Robert E. McDaniel, a doctor working through the Logansport State Hospital, determined that Ericson had attained the ability to understand the proceedings in this case and assist in his own defense.

The court ordered that Ericson be moved to the Brown County jail and held on a $500,000 surety bond.

A final pretrial conference was scheduled for Oct. 24 with a trial by jury on Nov. 9.

Prosecutor Ted Adams gave the chances of the trial actually happening on that date at “less than 10 percent.” He said he could not elaborate on the issues at play.

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

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

Zhang 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 and returned to school days later.

In April, Ericson was found incompetent to stand trial and was committed to the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction for 90 days in order to restore his competency.

In a letter to Judge Judith Stewart written from the Logansport State Hospital in August, Ericson said he had made “substantial progress” in his recovery.

He said he practiced his “own form of healing” while he was in solitary confinement in the Brown County jail, before being moved to Logansport. In the letter, he said a new medication regime had him “feeling better than I have for some 20 years.”

He said he still had “much work to do for my recovery” and referred to “this nightmare I have been involved in for the past eight months.”

He signed the letter, “Respectfully, Dana Morse Ericson.”

After he returned to the Brown County jail, he wrote the court another letter, received Sept. 8. In it, he said is responsible for his actions but that Brown Circuit Court has no jurisdiction over his case.

“I created an international incident. Your court has no jurisdiction [sic] on international affairs especially a Chinese communist. Please let us talk about serious issues of authentic justice! People are so sick! I and Thomas Jefferson can help!” he wrote, and after his name, signed it “Eagle.”

‘Sad chapter’

Zhang returned to China at the end of the school year and is now attending college in New York, Adams said.

“If this matter does go to trial, she will be subpoenaed, and we would pay for her to be transported back to Brown County to participate in the trial,” Adams said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating the hatchet attack as a hate crime. 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.”

Ericson could face life in prison if he is tried in federal court and convicted of attempted murder with a hate crime component.

In an Indiana court, the maximum sentence on an attempted murder conviction is 40 years.

“My understanding with the FBI is, they are kind of on a holding pattern to see what happens with our case and waiting to see, I suppose, if justice is rendered at the state court level before and if they intervene at all,” Adams said.

The last time Adams spoke with the FBI was at least six months ago, he said.

Ericson is being held in the Brown County jail, awaiting the next steps.

“It’s a sad chapter that I would like to close and move on from there,” Adams said about the case.

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.