The Southwest Virginia woman charged with stabbing a friend to death in a University of Virginia parking garage two months ago will be evaluated both for her competence to stand trial and for her sanity to be convicted, a judge ruled last month.
As the suspect, Tabatha Lynn Head, watched via video, Judge Andrew Sneathern approved the two evaluations during a brief October hearing.
"Yes, sir," said Head, smiling and briskly nodding as she indicated that she understood the process.
In contrast to a typical video appearance of someone held at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, Head beamed broadly when her case was called on Oct. 12. Her seemingly happy demeanor on the video screen in the Charlottesville General District Courtroom was also a stark contrast to her dour appearance in the mugshot taken shortly after she was charged with killing her friend.
The 47-year-old Head, whose has used the surname "Dotson" and whose first name is spelled "Tabitha" in the Charlottesville court records, is accused of intentionally stabbing 53-year-old Brian Patrick Kiser in a car in the 11th Street Garage at University of Virginia Medical Center.
"We have a bloody knife on scene with a puncture wound," a police officer could be heard to say on emergency radio on the afternoon of Sept. 7.
The next day, the University of Virginia Police Department issued a statement to the press indicating that it was called to the scene around 4:15 p.m. to find the victim already receiving life-saving procedures.
"Investigators believe that Head and Kiser are well-acquainted and that they traveled together to the University of Virginia Medical Center earlier in the day," the statement reads.
Indeed, both Head and Kiser were residents of Russell County, she in the county seat of Lebanon and he about 7 miles away in the hamlet of Cleveland. The two had recently been dating, according to Kiser’s mother, Pauline Salyers.
"He was really, really good to that lady," Salyers told the Daily Progress. "He was always for the underdog."
Kiser enjoyed hunting and fishing and was devastated, Salyers said, by the 2008 death of his wife, Diane Crabtree Kiser, due to complications from diabetes. Two years later, Salyers said, her son reluctantly ended his 21-year career as a track worker with the Norfolk Southern railroad due to back injuries.
"He was a little lost," said Salyers. "But he was just a good-hearted guy; he had no animosity to anybody."
The trip to Charlottesville was to accompany Salyers’ ex-husband, Kiser’s father, to kidney surgery. The surgery was completed earlier on the day of her son’s death, Salyers said.
"I talked to Brian, and he said, ‘They’ve got dad back in the room.’ And he was going to check on him. His dad told him he would like to get something to eat, and that was the last anyone saw him when he went back to the car."
What transpired in that car was not premeditated, but was a product of "the sudden heat of passion," according to a report penned by UVa police officer Jamie Kennison.
While Kennison’s criminal complaint provides little detail about what precipitated the stabbing, it sounds to veteran Charlottesville lawyer David Heilberg like a case of an escalating argument.
"I don’t know this," Heilberg stressed. "But there could have been some kind of fight that got physical."
Heilberg explained that Virginia law reserves the more serious homicide charges, the various levels of murder, for instances of malicious intent.
"If you kill someone unintentionally in a physical fight," said Heilberg, "then that’s voluntary manslaughter."
A voluntary manslaughter conviction calls for a term of one to 10 years behind bars. If this case moves upward to the circuit court, Heilberg noted, the commonwealth could seek an indictment for greater or additional charges.
Head has a lengthy criminal record. In addition to her several felony convictions for multiple instances of drug dealing, check forgery and probation violations, she also has a previous accusation of violence. In 2007, she was indicted in Russell County Circuit Court on charges of attempted murder and shooting into an occupied vehicle.
Kiser’s mother said that she later learned that it was an attack on one of Head’s husbands. The ensuing bench trial resulted in convictions for lesser misdemeanor charges: assault and battery, brandishing a firearm and reckless firearm handling. Head received a trio of 12-month sentences, with all of her jail time suspended.
The absence of a murder charge in Charlottesville and the pending mental health evaluations have Kiser’s mother worrying that Head won’t be held accountable for the death of her son, her only child.
"I don’t think she should ever be free," said Salyers. "She should be locked up."
Salyers said she recently suffered a broken wrist and was grateful when Head came over to help.
"She took care of me, and she was perfectly sane," said Salyers. "Can you instantly go insane?"
In court last month, Head’s lawyer, public defender Lauren Reese, said she expected the two mental evaluations would be completed by the end of November. Judge Sneathern agreed and set Dec. 14 as the next hearing.
"Thank you so much," said Head, who then gave Sneathern an enthusiastic and smiling wave of goodbye.