Thursday, December 8, 2022

Man who murdered mother found not guilty by reason of insanity

Ronnie Lavender Dovbish, age 19. (Photo courtesy Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail)
Ronnie Lavender Dovbish, age 19. (Photo courtesy Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail)

A young adult accused of murdering his mother in 2014 was found not guilty by reason of insanity Thursday morning in the York-Poquoson Circuit Court.

Speaking with little inflection in his voice, Ronnie Lavender Dovbish, 22, asked a judge to find him not guilty by reason of insanity in the March 2014 death of his mother, 40-year-old Heather Perkins.

Dovbish, who came to court wearing an orange jumpsuit and a recently-buzzed haircut, was arraigned on one charge of second degree murder before he entered a plea agreement in court.

Circuit Court Judge Richard Rizk accepted Dovbish’s plea, finding him not guilty after two doctors issued separate opinions that Dovbish wasn’t sane when he killed his mother.

“This has been a long endeavor,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Benjamin Hahn said of the case, which is nearing three years old.

According to Hahn, clinical psychiatrist Kevin McWilliams and psychologist Leigh Hagan both found Dovbish insane at the time of his mother’s death. The second mental evaluation, performed by Hagan, was ordered last September.

Dovbish’s attorney, Romeo Lumaban, added that Dovbish has needed to be restored to competency on two separate occasions since the start of the case.

When a defendant is found to be presently incompetent, they may not stand trial until their competency is restored. Restoration typically occurs with medication and/or commitment to a psychiatric facility.

Dovbish’s future will be determined in court March 21 at 9:30 a.m., when reports from both a psychiatrist and a psychologist on Dovbish’s mental state will be presented to the court. Depending on the doctors’ evaluations, Dovbish will either be committed to an institution, given conditional release or released fully from custody.

It is possible Dovbish will eventually be sent to Central State Hospital, in Petersburg, Lumaban told the court.

Police said Dovbish choked his mother and then stabbed her three times March 4, 2014 in Yorkshire Downs. The then-19-year-old called 911 dispatchers that night to report “a murder in my house,” giving dispatchers an incorrect address and then hanging up. When dispatchers called him back, he told them he was standing on the home’s porch, “waiting,” police said.

Dovbish then told the dispatcher, “Oh and by the way, I did it.”

Neither the prosecution nor defense brought in any witnesses to testify in court Thursday.

In a preliminary hearing April 24, 2015, two York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office deputies and a sergeant testified, sharing details of the scene they discovered the night of Perkins’ death.

Sgt. Freddy White interviewed Dovbish for about 15 to 20 minutes after deputies discovered his mother’s body, and Dovbish admitted he killed her because of “past memories.”

Dovbish told White he and his mother were “hanging out downstairs watching TV” when Dovbish went upstairs with his mother following him.

In the interview, Dovbish told White that Perkins began “touching” and “pushing on him” when they got into an upstairs bedroom, so he choked her from the back until she fell to the floor.

He then went downstairs, grabbed a kitchen knife, went back upstairs and “finished her off by stabbing her two or three times,” White recalled Dovbish saying.

An autopsy report revealed the cause of death was stab wounds to the back and smothering or strangling, Hahn said.

Dovbish told the sergeant his mother had “gotten physical” with him in the past.

White said Dovbish “had no emotion” during the interview.

Deputy Phillip Duong was the first to arrive on the scene and found Dovbish standing on the porch with his hands clasped, looking straight ahead. He ordered Dovbish to get on the ground and then handcuffed him before taking him to the back of another deputy’s patrol car.

He described Dovbish as acting like he was under the influence of drugs.

“He seemed out of it,” Duong said. At one point while he was placing Dovbish in custody, Duong asked him if there were any other people in the house, and Dovbish replied by “chuckling” and “saying something incoherent.”

While he was in the back of her patrol car, Dovbish told Deputy Jennifer Williamson he had stabbed his mother.

“He had this look on his face … I’ve never seen it before. He was fixated,” Williamson said, adding Dovbish spoke to her without ever looking at her.

A blood test revealed no signs of illegal substances or alcohol in Dovbish’s system at the time, Hahn said.

WYDaily archives were used in this story.

Fearing can be reached at 207-975-5459.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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