Mental exam ordered for Burlington murder suspect - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Mental exam ordered for Burlington murder suspect

Daniel Whalon Daniel Whalon
Ralph Bell Ralph Bell

Burlington, Vermont - July 25, 2011

Daniel Whalon sobbed as he entered a Burlington courtroom Monday. He's charged with fatally stabbing his secret lover, Ralph Bell, in the neck and chest. The 25-year-old Burlington man did not enter a plea Monday. Instead, the judge ordered him to go to the Vermont State Hospital for an in-patient mental health evaluation.

"This is a pretty standard practice," Chittenden County Prosecutor T.J. Donovan said. "Obviously in this case we want to make sure that all the rules are followed, that in fact Mr. Whalon is competent to face the charges that the state has alleged against him."

Whalon will continue to be held without bail. The state says the evaluation will determine if he's able to understand the charges and comprehend the advice given to him by his lawyers. He is facing a second-degree murder charge-- a crime that carries a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. This delay was tough for the victim's grieving family, but the state says it's a critical safeguard of the legal system.

"It wouldn't change anything with the state's charges. It certainly is going to determine which road we travel down in the criminal process," Donovan said.

If Whalon is found to be competent he will be tried for second-degree murder. If not, the prosecution says it would have to adjust its strategy. But the state's attorney did not say if that means Whalon would avoid jail time. The competency results are expected to take a few weeks.

A charge of murder in the second degree means there was not premeditation or planning on Whalon's part. But the police investigation continues. And if they find evidence pointing to a planned murder, that charge could be upgraded to first degree or additional charges could be filed.

Jennifer Reading - WCAX News

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