Navy veteran charged with kidnapping, killing Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek civilian won't face death penalty
By SCOTT DAUGHERTY | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: August 6, 2019
NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — If a Navy veteran ever stands trial on charges he abducted a 19-year-old woman from a military base in 2017 before she was found dead in North Carolina, federal prosecutors will not seek the death penalty, they said Tuesday.
But that is still a big if.
Eric Brian Brown remains incompetent to stand trial, despite being forcibly medicated for more than a year and being examined by at least six mental health experts — including four with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and two hired by the defense.
A prison psychologist deemed Brown competent earlier this year, but changed her opinion after hearing from the defense's experts.
U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson signed off Tuesday on letting a seventh expert speak with Brown for the prosecution. He declined, however, to let another doctor sit in and observe the interview.
Brown — who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia — was charged in November 2017 with kidnapping resulting in death, assault resulting in serious bodily injury and theft.
If convicted, he could have faced the death penalty. Prosecutors, however, announced Tuesday in court they would instead seek life in prison.
Federal prosecutors believe Brown kidnapped Ashanti Billie on Sept. 18, 2017, outside a sandwich shop at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek. She worked at the restaurant while also attending The Art Institute of Virginia Beach.
Following his arrest, state prosecutors filed murder charges in Charlotte, N.C., where Billie's body was found Sept. 29, 2017, near Brown's childhood home.
Brown's federal kidnapping case has been on hold most of the past 19 months while the experts try to determine whether he's competent to stand trial.
In January 2018, Jackson ruled Brown wasn't able to assist in his defense and ordered him to receive treatment. And in June 2018, the judge ruled prison staff could forcibly medicate him following a series of incidents.
In January 2019, the Bureau of Prisons informed the attorneys in the case Brown appeared to be competent.
Later, however, two experts hired by Brown's public defenders interviewed Brown and reached the opposite conclusion. The findings were shared with the prison's doctors, who in turn changed their opinion.
Brown has continued receiving treatment at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C., ever since.
Brown's public defenders have objected to their client's forced medication. A hearing on whether it is still appropriate is expected later this year.
Prosecutors asked the court in June to let them have their own experts examine Brown.
"The BOP experts are not the government’s experts, but the Court’s," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney William B. Jackson, who is of no relation to the judge.
The defense argued any interview by a prosecution-allied doctor would violate their client's constitutional protection against self incrimination. They also said such an examination is unnecessary "because four BOP experts agree that Mr. Brown has schizophrenia and is not competent to stand trial."
"Injecting two new evaluators into the process will only muddy clear waters," Assistant Federal Public Defender Keith Kimball said.
The prosecutor countered the opinions of the four BOP doctors were not included in the prison's most recent report. He added that one of the BOP doctors previously said Brown could be faking his mental health problems.