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Judge orders psychiatric evaluation at federal facility for veteran accused of murdering Ashanti Billie

VIRGINIA BEACH — A veteran accused of kidnapping a 19-year-old woman from a U.S. Navy base and murdering her before disposing of her body in North Carolina will undergo a mental competency evaluation at a federal facility.

Federal prosecutors entered a motion on Dec. 1 asking federal Judge Lawrence R. Leonard to order 45-year-old Eric Brian Brown to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at a federal facility to determine if he is mentally ill and competent to stand trial.

Brown, who served in the Navy for 21 years and retired as a petty officer who worked as an information system technician, is charged in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Virginia with kidnapping Ashanti Billie on Sept. 18.

He is also charged by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police with murdering Billie and dumping her body in tall grass located next to a North Carolina church Brown went to as a kid and 300 yards away from his childhood home, according to court documents.

Evidence against him includes DNA, which was found on Billie’s body and inside of her car, which Brown allegedly drove off the Navy base after kidnapping her as she was on her way into work at a Blimpie’s sub shop, court documents state.

Federal officials believe Brown needs to be evaluated to determine if he is mentally ill or competent to stand trial. A person who is not competent to stand trial would be someone who is physically or mentally incapable of understanding the charges against them and court proceedings, thereby rendering them unable to help in their own defense.

The prosecutors argued that the judge should take several alleged factors into account when deciding if Brown should be evaluated for competency, including:

  • Odd interactions between Brown and law enforcement prior to his Sept. 30 arrest in Norfolk where he made “deeply troubling statements” and acted with “bizarre conduct”
  • Information Brown has provided to officials about his mental health that raised “significant” concerns
  • Information Brown told to a prison psychologist and social services staff
  • Recorded observations by prison staff that show Brown acting in an odd way since he was jailed on federal charges

The motion does not detail exactly what types of behavior led prosecutors to believe Brown’s competency should be evaluated, but FBI Special Agent James Faulkner testified in November that agents who followed Brown during their investigation witnessed him sleeping in a Navy base gym, acting erratically by trying to open up random cars and visiting a known prostitute at an Econo Lodge on North Hampton Boulevard.

In one incident, Brown allegedly confronted an officer who was trailing him and asked if he was being followed. Brown told the officer that he’d been followed before by someone who wanted to harvest his organs, Faulkner testified.

According to the prosecutor’s motion, Brown’s defense attorneys, Andrew Grindrod and Keith Kimball, planned to object to the proposed evaluation and argue that he should have a local examination instead of a federal one; however, in a response submitted by Brown’s defense on Thursday, his attorneys acknowledged that a competency evaluation at a federal facility is reasonable.

Brown’s defense attorneys did, however, use their response to raise three pre-trial topics with the judge:

  • Brown has invoked his right to remain silent and not be questioned without his attorney’s present, and his defense will not waive that right in light of the competency evaluation.
  • Because the prosecution has asserted that they believe Brown may not be competent to stand trial, that means he may not competent to waive “important trial-related rights” during the evaluation, like his right to not incriminate himself.
  • Because his attorneys have not filed any notice that they may argue insanity as Brown’s defense, the competency hearing should be limited to his competency to stand trial.

On Friday, Leonard ordered that Brown will receive a competency evaluation at a federal medical center.

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