Murder suspect ordered to take antidepressants

A judge on Tuesday found Ammaad Chase-El, 24, clinically depressed and ordered him to take antidepressants to treat his condition so the case against him can move forward.

Chase-El’s lawyer, Elliott Queen, said his client’s depressive symptoms were the result of an adjustment disorder due to stress from legal issues as well as having to adapt to life at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

Chase-El is charged with first-degree murder in the March 2015 shooting death of 34-year-old Antonio Ayala. Chase-El is one of three suspects to be charged for the homicide that took place on March 30 at the corner of 13 and Van Buren St., NW.

Chase-El has continuously undergone mental evaluations since his arrest on April 4, 2015. He has spent the majority of his time in custody at St. Elizabeths.

Queen called two doctors from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital as his expert witnesses, Dr. Jonathan Lam and Dr. Joel Vilier. Both worked with Chase-El during his rehabilitation program at St. Elizabeth’s as part of the hospital’s treatment team.

Dr. Lam, the pre-trial unit’s clinical psychologist, worked with Chase-El on a daily basis since Oct. 2015 and concluded, based on his interactions with him, that he was suffering from an adjustment disorder. When asked by the Assistant U.S. Attorney, Nebiyu Feleke, if he had ever reported that Chase-El was not depressed, Dr. Lam said he “could not recall.”

Feleke then presented a report filed by a psychology intern at St. Elizabeth’s, which highlighted discrepancies in Lam’s report. The report showed inconsistencies with Lam’s assessment because it said Chase-El initially seemed to be mentally healthy but later hinted that the may have been feigning his mood.

Lam and Vilier both said that Chase-El seemed somber and moot but that was just his personality. Based on his weekly interactions with Chase-El in a group therapy he holds every Friday, Vilier said that even when he would discuss his joys and interests he didn’t smile but did not lack enthusiasm when talking about them.

Both doctors emphasized that Chase-El played competitive basketball, socialized with his peers, and had a normal appetite. He did not meet the  criteria to be found clinically depressed. However, Dr. Risoto, another clinical psychiatrist mentioned in another intern’s report, said that Chase-El’s mood “fluctuated” over the course of his treatment. Superior Court Judge Florence Pan also pointed out from another report that another clinical psychiatrist diagnosed Chase-El with depression and had him medicated.

Ryan’s report highlighted a prescription Dr. Vilier made for Chase-El for an anti-depressive medication known as Trazadone. Vilier said that it was to help him sleep, as some psychiatrists prescribe Trazadone as an alternative to prescription sleeping medications such as Zolpidem, also know as Ambien, and Lunesta.

When pointing out the findings of the other psychiatrists at St. Elizabeth’s, Feleke asked Dr. Vilier if he had ever read any of the competency team’s reports and he replied that he didn’t. Feleke then called Dr. Lam back to the stand and asked him if he read the reports prior to coming to the medical hearing and Lam also said he did not read them.

Chase-El’s lawyer said there are “roving interns who are supervised by whoever and don’t report to others” at the hospital and “at St. Elizabeth, nobody knows what the hell is going on.”

Judge Pan however found the findings to be “well-supported by the record” and ordered Chase-El to be involuntarily medicated for the sake of restoring competency for future trials. Pan found that the defendant “has a depressive disorder and involunatary medication is necessary to go forward to further the government’s interest to restore competency.”

A mental status hearing for Chase-El will go forward on Oct. 7.

Herman Odom, 23, and Javonte Odom, 20, have also being charged with first-degree murder. Both men are being held without bail.


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