An 87-year-old man accused of killing his neighbor and one of her dogs appeared confused and couldn't answer basic questions during a hearing Thursday. That prompted a Forsyth County judge to order a full psychiatric evaluation of him be conducted at Central Regional Hospital.
Hermon Lowell Aycoth is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Karla Ragsdale Essick, 54. Winston-Salem police said Essick was shot to death about 7:20 a.m. July 15 in the 200 block of Cool Springs Road. Aycoth and Essick were neighbors.
An order filed Sept. 2 said Dr. Katyoun Tabrizi, a licensed forensic psychiatrist, reported that Aycoth lacks capacity to proceed and is unlikely to recover capacity. Tabrizi determined that Aycoth suffered from dementia "with significant cognitive defects and is therefore incapable to proceed."
Assistant District Attorney Matt Breeding had filed a motion asking for a "complete and thorough mental health evaluation" on Aycoth's capacity to proceed. Breeding said in the motion that neither Dr. Tabrizi nor Dr. Mark Hazelrigg, a forensic psychiatrist at Central Regional Hospital, did enough to determine if Aycoth really had dementia. He noted that Tabrizi said in her report that Aycoth should have a full diagnostic evaluation to "rule out ... treatable medical conditions" as the cause of Aycoth's mental issues.
Paul James, Aycoth's attorney, filed an objection, saying that two highly experienced experts have both determined that Aycoth is mentally incapable of proceeding to trial and that he might not be able to recover that capacity. A third evaluation is unnecessary, he argued.
Judge David Hall of Forsyth Superior Court conducted his own inquiry with Aycoth who appeared via video conferencing from the Forsyth County Jail.
At one point, Hall asked him both whether he had an attorney and whether he had met James. Aycoth answered no to both questions. When asked how old he was, Aycoth said he was about 80.
"Do you know if it's spring, summer, fall or winter?" Hall asked.
"I would say summertime," Aycoth replied.
Hall also asked Aycoth to name several family members. When asked about his sisters, he wasn't sure if they were alive or dead and he didn't know the exact age of his daughter.
Hall said he observed that Aycoth appeared disheveled and confused. Hall ordered that Aycoth be sent to Central Regional Hospital for at least 60 days to be evaluated.
In addition to criminal charges, Aycoth faces a wrongful-death lawsuit that was filed by Kimberly R. Ragsdale, Essick's sister and the executor of her estate.
According to the lawsuit, Aycoth went to Karla Essick's house on July 14 and asked for her help with some financial matters. At his request, the two went to a bank so that he could sort out some bills that were overdue. Later that evening, Aycoth went back to Essick's house and thanked her.
But at 7 a.m. on July 15, Aycoth walked over to Essick's house after her boyfriend left, the lawsuit alleges. Essick answered the door, her puppy, Waylon, in her arms. She headed down the hallway to place Waylon in a kennel in her bedroom with Aycoth following her, the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said Aycoth began shouting at Essick about money and then he pulled out a .22-caliber pistol and fired two shots at Essick. Both Essick and Waylon were struck and Aycoth fired two more times as Essick tried to escape, the lawsuit said. Seconds passed, and Aycoth fired another two times. In total, Aycoth shot Essick six times, with five of the bullets hitting Essick in the torso.
The lawsuit said Aycoth "calmly" walked out of the house and went back to his house. At the time of the shooting, Essick's grandson was in the house and later called the police.
Breeding said in court papers that Aycoth was on the front porch when police arrived and "admitted shooting victim over some paperwork that she had helped him with the day before."
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