The woman accused of murdering author Matthew S. Farrell will be sent to a state psychiatric hospital for a competency evaluation, a judge ruled Monday.
Judge Areshini Pather ordered 38-year-old Shawna Marie Natalie Murphy to Western State Hospital in Staunton after a brief hearing Monday morning in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
Wearing leg shackles, handcuffs, and a waist chain, the defendant cast a largely downward gaze as her defense attorney discussed her case with a prosecutor.
“Thank you for being here,” the judge said to Murphy. “It feels like a lot.”
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Holly R. Vradenburgh noted that the defendant, citing a desire to confer with counsel, had declined to participate in a competency hearing while incarcerated at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, where she has been held without bail since her October 25 arrest. She faces a charge of second-degree murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Vradenburgh told Judge Pather that the recommendation for in-patient evaluation came from a letter from a psychiatrist which Vradenburgh then emailed to the judge in the courtroom. Nicholas J. Reppucci of the Office of the Public Defender indicated that he agreed to the plan to send his client to Western State.
Murphy is a self-described “street performer” whose skills include clowning, juggling and fire dancing, according to her online brochures and videos. Police have said in court papers that she was living with the 53-year-old Farrell and that she is the person who admitted to shooting him in her 911 call summoning first responders.
The filings allege that Farrell was found in bed in his Stony Point Road residence with a single gunshot to the back of the head.
In one search warrant affidavit, police noted that about 28 hours before they were summoned to that residence Murphy had posted to Facebook a scene from the 1996 film “Freeway.” In that scene, Reese Witherspoon’s character kills Kiefer Sutherland’s character with a gunshot to the back of the head.
Investigators used this still-online and publicly viewable piece of circumstantial evidence to obtain a warrant two days after Farrell’s body was found to obtain electronic documentation from Meta Platforms Inc., Facebook’s parent company.
“I got an A in Acting 1 in college for performing this scene,” Murphy wrote atop the posted movie clip.
“Oh, my god,” said veteran criminal defense attorney Scott Goodman. “It’s so close in time to when the killing took place.”
The search warrant says it seeks the electronic information from Meta for “relevant insight into the Facebook account owner’s state of mind,” and Goodman said that he thinks that evidence of premeditation could result in an upgrade of the charges to first-degree murder.
“It strengthens the Commonwealth’s hand,” said Goodman. “It puts more pressure on the defense.”
He said the defense might strengthen its own hand if the Western State evaluation finds evidence that leads to an insanity defense.
However, Judge Pather also ordered that Murphy receive “competency restoration” at Western State if required and ordered Murphy to return to court for another hearing on Feb. 13.