A Nassau judge found Wednesday that a Great Neck woman wasn't criminally responsible for fatally stabbing a British tourist in her home, delivering a verdict in a trial that made state history because of its use of virtual technology during the coronavirus pandemic.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Bogle said Faye Doomchin, 68, wielded a kitchen knife "in a moment of schizophrenia psychosis" and wasn't responsible by reason of mental disease or defect for second-degree murder in the Aug. 13, 2018, death of Denise Webster.
Doomchin used a Skype video conference connection at Nassau’s jail to virtually attend most of her Nassau County Court trial — a first in New York State.
The proceeding also was heralded as the state's “first hybrid criminal trial," one with Skype and live courtroom testimony. In addition, it marked the first criminal trial on Long Island as in-person court operations began starting up after the pandemic caused many courthouse closures.
The defense never contested Doomchin killed Webster, 61, but argued she was so mentally ill she couldn’t appreciate the consequences of her acts after struggling for decades with schizophrenia.
The prosecution claimed that while Doomchin did suffer from mental illness, she acted intentionally when she plunged a knife into the victim without provocation and knew what she was doing was wrong.
"This was the right verdict. It reflected the true meaning of justice," said Doomchin's attorney, Robert Gottlieb.
Nassau district attorney's office spokeswoman Miriam Shoulder said prosecutors respected the judge's verdict, adding: "This case was a horrific tragedy, and our thoughts remain with Ms. Webster’s family."
Police said after Doomchin’s arrest that she had declared she “needed to rid the house of evil” before stabbing the victim after they returned to her home for coffee, cake and piano music after lunch out with a mutual male acquaintance.
That platonic friend, Mitchell Kessler, testified Webster had been visiting New York as part of a trip abroad in which the two of them planned to travel together as Webster marked five years of being cancer-free. He said he and Webster, who lived in Garswood in northwest England, “became instant soulmates” after meeting and were members of a fan club for rock band Queen and its current frontman, Adam Lambert.
Dr. Jeremy Colley, a psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution, said Doomchin suffered from bipolar disorder but wasn’t going through a delusional episode at the time of the slaying.
But forensic psychologist Chuck Denison, a defense witness who testified using Skype, said Doomchin was “in the throes of a psychotic episode” when the killing took place. He said Doomchin had a persistent delusion for at least 20 years that an evil force was permeating the world and she had "a special role … to help rid the world of evil.”
In his closing argument, prosecutor Martin Meaney pointed to a video of Doomchin speaking to police after the homicide, saying she looked “lucid” and talked about what she had done as “a terrible mistake, not ‘the Devil made me do it.’”
But Gottlieb compared the homicide to a nonfatal knife attack that Doomchin carried out in 1999 in a real estate office, after which she pleaded not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect and got about a decade of outpatient psychiatric treatment.
Court officials said mental health experts will examine Doomchin and issue reports before the judge decides if she should be freed or sent to a state psychiatric facility — a confinement that would be reassessed periodically.
On Wednesday, Bogle called Doomchin "a violent and dangerous person, who should be institutionalized to receive the treatment she needs."