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Attorney: Sailor charged with attempted murder found not guilty by 'lack of mental responsibility'

Wilbur Harwell

COURTESY OF THE DOD

By BROCK VERGAKIS | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: February 27, 2016

NORFOLK (Tribune News Service) — A sailor charged with attempted murder in the 2014 stabbing of another sailor at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center was found not guilty Friday by “lack of mental responsibility,” according to his attorney.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Wilbur Harwell was accused of attacking Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Powell with a knife in the barracks at the medical complex on June 6, 2014.

Both sailors had been temporarily assigned to a psychiatric unit at the hospital that treats sailors with severe mental illness. Prosecutors have said the assault was unprovoked.

In November, military prosecutors and Harwell’s attorney agreed to seek an independent assessment of Harwell’s mental condition. Harwell had previously undergone two mental health evaluations since his apprehension.

A military psychological evaluation taken weeks after the incident concluded Harwell was not mentally stable at the time of the attack and was not competent to stand trial. After several months of treatment, a subsequent evaluation at the Federal Medical Center, Butner, in North Carolina, determined Harwell had been restored to competency.

Defense attorney Greg McCormack said the results of the third evaluation were returned about a week ago, finding that Harwell was not competent.

Previous evaluations have determined that Harwell was suffering from schizophrenia and a mood disorder at the time of the stabbing. McCormack said a hearing will be held later to determine whether Harwell is a threat to others. He said Harwell remains in military custody and is taking medication.

Powell survived the assault. Harwell fled, which led to a manhunt throughout Hampton Roads. The search ended eight hours later when he was found in a hotel at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

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