Last week at a hearing in Norfolk, Virginia, the lawyer representing Petty Officer 3rd Class Wilbur Harwell – a man who stands accused of attempted murder – presented evidence that his client experienced several rounds of electroshock therapy and was deprived of his psychiatric medication in the weeks leading up to the attack that put him behind bars.
The comments came during an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury proceeding. At the hearing, evidence was presented that Harwell was too mentally unstable to stand trial. Referencing Harwell's electroshock therapy treatment and history of hearing voices, Harwell's attorney argued, "We have a seriously sick man in court right now." Going on to say, "How this young man is going to make it through trial, I don't know."
The court also heard evidence that officials presiding over the case had improperly reviewed a copy of a long-form psychological evaluation of Harwell, which included privileged comments concerning his mental state. Describing Harwell as "a very sick man," his attorney argued the Navy had severely mishandled the case and, therefore, should transfer it to another convening authority.
Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Lewis, the lead prosecutor, admitted her predecessor had seen the mental evaluation. However, he has since transferred to another command, and neither Lewis, nor the admiral who will decide how to proceed, has seen the evaluation.
During the hearing, Lewis provided an account of the attack, in all its grisly detail. She described how on June 6th of last year in the barracks of Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, Harwell attacked Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Powell with a knife, slashing his throat and stabbing him in the chest seven times. Two other sailors attempted to pull Harwell off Powell. After the attack, one of those men drove Harwell to a nearby hotel where police apprehended him eight hours later.
Harwell's family and girlfriend were all present at the hearing to support him. All parties declined invitations to make a statement.
The presiding officer is expected to make a recommendation in the coming days.