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Is he mentally unstable or a con artist? Judge orders Suffolk man to undergo mental health evaluation

Virginian-Pilot - 12/8/2017

Dec. 08--NORFOLK -- A Suffolk man is suicidal and possibly incompetent to stand trial on federal gun and obstruction charges, according to his defense attorney.

But prosecutors aren't so sure, arguing Richard Patterson's newfound mental health problems are just his latest attempt to undermine the legal system.

U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson ordered Patterson this morning to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. The judge said he worried that, if he let the trial go forward as scheduled next week and Patterson was found guilty, an appeals court could overturn the conviction and order a new trial.

If Patterson is found competent, the trial will be rescheduled for sometime after Feb. 7.

Patterson, a felon with false statement and perjury convictions on his record, was indicted in July on charges he illegally possessed 17 firearms -- including handguns, shotguns and military-style rifles. He bought, sold and traded some of the weapons with government witnesses, according to court documents.

The case's path to trial has been anything but routine. While federal agents investigated Patterson's dealings, they uncovered a video that appeared to show him and his wife engaging in sexual activity with a dog. No charges have been filed in connection with the video.

Later, prosecutors charged the wife with obstruction of justice amid allegations she lied to federal investigators and, at the direction of her husband, tried to change the registered address of the kennel business they ran out of their home. That was an effort to invalidate a search warrant listing their address, prosecutors say.

Christina Patterson pleaded guilty to two charges, including obstruction, and is cooperating with the government. Prosecutors say Richard Patterson then turned to his juvenile daughters for help with his case.

According to court documents, Patterson was speaking with his 15-year-old daughter Tuesday afternoon, shortly before he started making suicidal comments to defense attorney Andrew Sacks. Recordings of jail phone calls show he was coaching the girl on what to say if she takes the stand in his defense, the documents said.

Near the end of the call, Patterson started berating the child for suggesting he take a plea deal, the documents said.

"The defendant's suicidal behavior is not a mental defect," Assistant U.S. Attorney William B. Jackson wrote. "It is a calculated effort to manipulate his family members into submitting to his will."

Sacks said his client has a documented psychiatric history "of some significance" and is a "verified survivor of sexual abuse much earlier in life." He said Patterson has been diagnosed with bi-polar and post-traumatic stress disorder in the past and attempted suicide at least twice while awaiting this trial -- including once the week of Thanksgiving.

Sacks had no proof of Patterson's mental health issues, saying he had paid little attention to them until this week because he was not planning an insanity defense.

That changed Tuesday. In court documents, Sacks recounted his visit with Patterson at the Western Tidewater Regional Jail. He said he immediately noticed something was wrong with Patterson when he walked into the room.

"The defendant became extremely tearful and began sobbing somewhat uncontrollably, which counsel had not observed the defendant ever do previously," Sacks said.

He said he believed Patterson was no longer capable of assisting him at trial and might not even understand what was happening in court.

The judge took a recess to review documents from a previous federal case that referenced Patterson's mental health issues. After returning to the bench, he said an evaluation was appropriate given Patterson's record. He noted the possibility Patterson is bipolar, and said that could explain how he cogently was speaking with his daughter one moment and sobbing to his attorney another.

"They swing from high to low," Judge Jackson said.

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(c)2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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