One by one, deputies and detectives at the daylong court hearing described a grisly scene of blood and horror inside the Bukhantsovs’ Rancho Cordova duplex as the man facing a death sentence in the killings sat at the counsel table between his attorneys, face down in his spittle, seemingly drifting in and out of consciousness.
Grigoriy Bukhantsov, 22, will stand trial in the October 2012 slayings of his sister-in-law and two of her children, a Sacramento judge ruled Thursday at a preliminary hearing held over the objections of attorneys concerned about Bukhantsov’s mental state. Superior Court Judge Steve White called a Feb. 26 hearing to set a trial date and ordered information from psychiatric staff at the Sacramento County Main Jail on Bukhantsov’s condition.
Bukhantsov’s mental state has been a point of contention throughout his proceedings. A Sacramento Superior Court jury in August found the triple-murder defendant mentally competent to stand trial. Attorneys Jan Karowsky and Hayes Gable argued in August that Bukhantsov had a major medical disorder brought on by psychosis. Sacramento County prosecutor Donell Slivka acknowledged Bukhantsov’s mental illness but said he faked other mental health symptoms.
But Bukhantsov’s condition has grown worse in recent days, either as a result of mental illness or anti-psychotic medication administered in jail custody, Karowsky argued Thursday next to a slumped, sallow and soiled Bukhantsov. Karowsky called on White to postpone the hearing, saying his client has been on the jail’s mental health floor since Feb. 1 and was in a “near-catatonic state” when Karowsky and Gable visited him in custody Wednesday.
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“He was drooling and still is drooling. His jail orange shirt is wet, and, candidly, he smells like an outhouse,” Karowsky told White. “The jail believes he’s gravely disabled. We’re ready for a preliminary hearing, but we don’t see that it makes sense to go forward without another evaluation.”
But prosecutor Slivka argued Thursday that a delay would be a slippery slope toward another competency hearing, saying medication, not his mental state, was the issue at Thursday’s hearing. Slivka also argued that Bukhantsov, while mentally ill, still had the ability to communicate with jail staff and his attorneys.
“When he wants something, he’s able to communicate, whether he’s asking to turn off the light in his cell or asking for a change of clothes,” Slivka said. “Nothing has been presented that there’s a substantial change in circumstances.”
Thursday’s preliminary hearing came more than three years after Alina Bukhantsov, 23; daughter Emmanuela, 3; and 2-year-old son Avnir were found dead in the kitchen of the family’s De Soto Way home. Denis Bukhantsov, Grigoriy’s brother, discovered the bodies, then frantically ran from door to neighbor’s door to find a phone to call 911. The Bukhantsovs’ 6-month-old son, Mark, was found unharmed sleeping in a bedroom crib, the only survivor of the carnage prosecutors say his uncle wrought before fleeing the home in Alina Bukhantsov’s Chrysler minivan. The minivan was spotted by police hours later in the parking lot of a Rocklin diner, Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies testified. Grigoriy Bukhantsov was found dozing in one of the booths.
Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Kennedy was among the first to rush to the De Soto Way home with the dispatcher’s call that a family was dead inside. Denis Bukhantsov stood crying in the doorway, he testified. As Kennedy walked through the living room and into the kitchen, he said he saw Emmanuela’s body first, then Alina’s and lastly, Avnir’s. On a kitchen table lay a large kitchen knife. Kennedy said he spotted blood on the blade. The morning’s breakfast of sausage and eggs sat on a table. Kennedy said he then heard a noise from down the hall. Baby Mark was crying in the master bedroom.
Alina was busy early that October morning cooking breakfast for Denis and the children, detectives testified, citing interviews with Denis Bukhantsov. Grigoriy slept on a couch in the living room.
Grigoriy had appeared on their doorstep the night before, drenched from the rain, in front of the only family whose whereabouts he still knew. Denis had debated whether to let him inside, but felt sorry for him, Deputy Sgt. Stanley Swisher testified.
Other family members had already been scared away by Grigoriy’s violence and threats, according to deputies, who also testified that he had fought with one of his brothers and beaten his sister. His parents had abruptly moved from California to the Midwest, fearing for their lives. Swisher said Denis told him Grigoriy “was going to kill us and put fire on us,” invoking Nikolay Soltys, the Ukrainian immigrant who hanged himself in jail in 2001 before he could be tried in the August 2001 killings of six family members, including his pregnant wife and 3-year-old son.
Less than 24 hours after Grigoriy Bukhantsov walked into his brother’s home, three of his family were dead.