Man charged in 2016 hatchet attack to stand trial next week

The man accused of attacking a foreign exchange student with a hatchet last year in downtown Nashville will go on trial next week.

Dana Ericson, 61, of Nashville, was charged with three felonies, including attempted murder. His trial by judge will begin Tuesday, Aug. 15. He waived his right to a jury trial.

Ericson was charged after police say he hit 18-year-old Yue “Z” Zhang in the back with a hatchet in February 2016. She was taking pictures for a high school class.

After he was arrested at the scene, Ericson told police he was attempting “ethnic cleansing” and called himself a white supremacist.

He was moved to the Logansport State Hospital earlier this year after being found incompetent to stand trial for a second time. He returned to the Brown County jail July 27.

A hearing on reducing his bond took place in Brown Circuit Court on July 28; the bond has been $500,000.

This time, he sat quietly in the courtroom — unlike previous hearings in which he would interrupt to ask about a revolution or one of the Founding Fathers — until he testified. His physical appearance also was different than the last time he was housed at the Brown County jail; he had gotten a haircut, had a shaved face and was wearing glasses.

His attorney, public defender Jacob Moore, told the court that Ericson’s 100-year-old mother was going to take a mortgage out on her home to pay 10 percent of his bond in order to get him out of jail.

Moore recommended lowering the bond between $200,000 and $250,000 to make it less burdensome on Ericson’s mother.

His mother, Davida, and a family friend, Bill Todd, testified about the support system he would have if he were to be released on bail to live with his mother.

“They have a very good understanding of each other,” Todd said. “He shows great empathy for her needs because of her physical disability with her vision. He has demonstrated great concern for that and has taken care of her, from my observation.”

Todd testified he could tell a difference in Ericson after he was released from the state hospital.

“He was very connected to what was being spoken to him. He was extremely reflective on the things and issues involved that you (Moore) presented to him. The choices he has to make, he demonstrated great deal of insight and control,” Todd said.

Judge Judith A. Stewart took the matter under advisement. On July 31, she issued an order denying the request.

While in the county jail, Ericson wrote multiple letters to Stewart talking about black magic and conspiracies against him and his family. In a typed letter from the state hospital July 6, he apologized for his “rather tormented correspondence” from the county jail.

“I came from deep psychological disturbance and dysfunction,” he wrote. “Being held in solitary confinement for more than eight months without a window or any kind of appropriate psychotherapy proves to send me back into a desperate psychiatric condition.”

Moore and others who testified made the argument that Ericson’s mental health deteriorates quickly when he is confined to a holding cell. During the hearing, Ericson estimated he spent eight to 10 months in the holding cell away from the rest of the jail population and described the experience as “devastating.”

He said that while at the state hospital, he was able to sit outside to do meditations, which was “healing” to him.

His mother said “the lack of sunlight, the lack of any contact with people who might be company or provide stimulating context, the lack of being outdoors, which is a big part of his life,” was damaging to her son.

Deputy Prosecutor Andy Szkalay argued against the bond reduction, citing risk to the public if Ericson were to be released. Szkalay also said that since the trial date isn’t too far away, Ericson won’t have to spend much more time at the jail.

Stewart said agreed that having a trial soon minimizes the risk of his mental health deteriorating. She also noted that right now, there is no mental health treatment plan if Ericson were to be released on bond.

But Stewart said that the court might reconsider if the trial is postponed, or if it becomes necessary to keep him in a holding cell for a “significant length of time,” or if specific “intensive mental health treatment” is arranged for him.

In her order, Stewart set out conditions if Ericson were to be released on bond. He would have to be placed on electronic monitoring through Brown County Community Corrections, and he would have to take all prescribed medications and comply with all mental health treatment recommendations.

His bench trial will begin at 9 a.m. Aug. 15 and is expected to last two days.

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