The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction of George Cage in the murder of his wife and their unborn child, rejecting an argument by Cage that he was not competent to stand trial and that former Circuit Judge Berlin C. Jones erred when he refused to give the jury an instruction dealing with mental illness or defect.
Following a three-day trial in July 2016, Cage, now 35, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the death of the child, and life in prison for the stabbing death of his wife, Mendi Bell, with the sentences to run consecutively, or on after the other. Trial testimony showed that Cage stabbed Bell, 37, after the two argued at a house they shared on Huntley Road on Jan. 19, 2013.
The argument followed an altercation between Cage, who is black, and Bell’s son, William Dykes, who, like Bell, was white. During the argument, Cage stabbed Bell in the face, neck and back as she ran out the door; she was found in an automobile about a block away from the house waiting on emergency personnel. She was taken to Jefferson Regional Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.
After prosecutors filed charges against Cage, his attorney filed a motion asking that Cage be sent to the State Hospital to determine if he was competent to stand trial, and that was done. In January 2014, Cage was examined by Dr. Mark Peacock, who found that Cage suffered from schizophrenia and was unfit to proceed to trial.
In addition, Peacock found that Cage did not have the capacity to understand the charges against him, and that he lacked the ability to fully assist in his defense. Jones entered a not-fit-to-proceed order, and Cage was committed to the Department of Human Services for detention, care and treatment until he was fit to proceed to trial. While in the custody of the state, Cage received medications and therapy.
In November 2013, he was examined for a second time by Dr. Jason Beaman, who found that Cage was fit for trial because, after receiving the therapy and medications, he possessed the ability to assist his attorneys and accepted responsibility for his actions. Cage was released from the hospital in December 2014.
On Feb. 29, 2016, per orders of the court, Beaman evaluated Cage for a second time and told the court that Cage had refused to cooperate, saying that in his opinion, Cage’s refusal to cooperate was deliberate. Jones then held his own competency hearing and ruled that Cage was competent.
Beaman also testified by video at the trial and said that he found Cage competent to stand trial and that he did not suffer from any defect or disease at the time of the murders. After his conviction, Cage appealed, first contending that Jones was wrong when he ruled that Cage was competent.
Writing for the high court, Chief Justice Dan Kemp said Jones conducted his own competency hearing and also relied on reports from both Peacock and Beaman. Kemp said that both concluded that Cage was competent to stand trial.
“Dr. Peacock’s report alone provides substantially evidence to support the circuit court’s finding of competency,” Kemp said in the ruling.
For his second point of appeal, Cage contended that Jones should have read a jury instruction dealing with Cage’s mental state at the time of the incident, which says, in part, that “a person is not criminally responsible for his conduct if at the time of that conduct, as a result of mental disease or defect, he lacked the capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.”
In rejecting the request for that argument to be used, Jones said, “We don’t have anything in the record to whereby any of the professionals or expert witnesses testified that he had a mental disease or defect at the time of the occurrence. This court is not allowed to speculate. This court must rely upon evidence in the record, and as we speak, it is not in the record that this defendant the time of the occurrence, was experiencing any mental disease or defect that would have rendered him incapable of appreciating the criminality of his conduct or of reforming his conduct to that which is expected of the law.”
Writing for the high court, Kemp said Cage presented no supporting evidence to support his claim that the jury should have been given the instruction and said Jones did not abuse his discretion when he refused to use it. Cage is serving his sentence at the Ouachita River Correctional Unit at Malvern.