Grigoriy Bukhantsov is fit to stand trial in the brutal slayings of his sister-in-law and two of her children at their Rancho Cordova home in October 2012, a Sacramento Superior Court jury decided Wednesday in his competency hearing after two days of deliberation.
Bukhantsov, now 22, could face the death penalty or life without parole if convicted in the killings. Future hearings in the case have not yet been set.
“We’ve done all we can,” Bukhantsov co-counsel Hayes Gable said outside the courtroom after the jury’s decision. “The jury has reached a verdict and we have to live with it.”
Bukhantsov was 19 when he was accused of stabbing to death his sister-in-law, Alina Bukhantsov, 23, her daughter Emmanuela, 3, and son Avenir, 2, in their De Soto Way duplex. His brother, Denis, discovered their bodies. Alina and Denis Bukhantsov’s youngest son, then 6 months old, was spared.
Grigoriy Bukhantsov remains in Sacramento County Jail, where he has been held since his October 2012 arrest.
Jan Karowsky and Gable argued that their client’s mental state – a “major medical disorder brought on by psychosis,” Karowsky said in his closing argument before Judge Steve White on Monday – rendered the triple-murder suspect incapable of assisting them in his defense. Karowsky and Gable last week brought witnesses to testify of Bukhantsov’s rants, outbursts and physical violence against his family and others in the years and months before the killings.
“The evidence is clear that Mr. Bukhantsov is not capable of meaningfully helping us,” said Karowsky.
Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Donell Slivka agreed Bukhantsov suffered from mental illness, but argued he also faked and exaggerated symptoms of mental illness in jail and is now capable of assisting counsel in his defense. She pointed to evaluators who testified Bukhantsov was able to look up law that corresponded with his insanity plea, discussed his plea and knew the charges against him. Bukhantsov, one psychiatrist said, showed a “sophistication not normal for defendants with mental health issues.”
“He has the ability” to cooperate with counsel, Slivka said. “The defendant does suffer from mental illness. We wouldn’t be here if Mr. Bukhantsov didn’t have some sort of mental disorder,” Slivka said in her argument. “This is not the trial to consider whether he has a severe mental disorder or a lesser disorder. This is a decision on his current competency today – right now.”
Jurors considered his competency now and the feigning issue heavily, said juror Doug Demers.
“There was a lot of talk about feigning,” Demers said. “He had looked up the law. Another time, he said he wanted the death penalty taken off the table because he was insane.”
With their decision, Karowsky said jurors reasoned that “if he was capable of faking it, then he was probably capable of helping his lawyers.”
Demers said he was a holdout until Wednesday.
“I wanted to make sure it was thoroughly vetted, and in the end, it was,” he said.