Naked City

Doctors Deem Ngai Competent

A UT student accused of murdering his professor in April may be competent to stand trial, doctors at the North Texas State Hospital said last week. If a district judge approves the doctors' finding, 23-year-old Jackson Ngai could proceed to trial in a few months.

On April 29, Ngai, a graduate student in music, placed a 911 call from the home of his piano professor, Danielle Martin. Ngai asked for help because, according to the police report, "someone had a computer chip in their brain." When APD officers arrived, Martin was dead from stab wounds to the head and torso, and Ngai was in the middle of a psychotic episode. He had been diagnosed with mental illness months earlier and treated by the Austin State Hospital and the Austin Travis County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center. His last visit to ATCMHMR came just a few hours before the murder.

Ngai and Martin had grown close since Ngai came to Austin from Hawaii last year. Martin befriended Ngai after his mental illness was diagnosed, and he had served as a caretaker for the professor, who had multiple sclerosis. Mental health advocates blame Martin's death on the state's fragmented and overcrowded mental health care system. "They sent an invalid to care for an invalid," says Joe Lovelace, executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

A psychologist who evaluated Ngai in prison a few weeks after Martin's death found him of "at least average intelligence" but disoriented and slow to answer questions. At that time, Ngai believed a computer chip had been implanted in his brain, and that his mind was being controlled. Based on the psychologist's evaluation, Ngai was committed to the North Texas State Hospital for treatment and continuing evaluation. There, Ngai was put on newer antipsychotic medications. He also received counseling and instruction in the basics of courtroom behavior. In a report dated Sept. 29, psychologist B. Thomas Gray recommended Ngai be found competent to stand trial, based on Ngai's understanding of courtroom processes and the charges against him, and his ability to communicate with his lawyer and testify without "undue influence of emotion." Gray also noted Ngai's above-average intelligence, although Ngai apparently had trouble concentrating during the interview, and asked for several questions to be repeated. Ngai's attorney, Jim Erickson, intends to seek an insanity defense for his client.

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Jackson Ngai, Danielle Martin, Austin / Travis County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority, Northwest Texas State Hospital, Jim Erickson

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