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Suspect in Hempstead triple slaying may be found fit to stand trial

Bobby Vanderhall has had about a year of

Bobby Vanderhall has had about a year of psychiatric treatment upstate.  Credit: Howard Schnapp

A man facing triple murder charges in the 2017 slayings of his mother, sister and a family friend in Hempstead soon could be found fit to stand trial after about a year of psychiatric treatment in an upstate facility.

Bobby Vanderhall, 36, is back in custody at Nassau’s jail and appeared Friday in a Mineola court for a conference in his case.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Patricia Harrington told Vanderhall that a finding from Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center that he now is competent to stand trial would have to be confirmed or contested by the defense. The judge ultimately will decide if he's ready for trial.

Police arrested Vanderhall hours after they said he ended the lives of his mother, Lynn Vanderhall, 58, his sister, Melissa Vanderhall, 29, and Melissa's friend, Janel Simpson, also 29, of Uniondale, in a hammer and knife attack inside his family's Hempstead home.

Another friend of his sister was able to escape the Perry Street home during the man's rampage on Aug. 12, 2017, after the accused hit her several times with a hammer, according to authorities. 

They said the woman flagged down a passerby who called police.

The judge also explained to Vanderhall on Friday that his attorney, Derrick Magwood, had to speak to more physicians before deciding how to proceed.

Vanderhall told the judge that he understood before she set May 1 as his next court date.

A grand jury previously indicted the defendant on charges of first and second-degree murder, criminally possessing a hammer and knives, attempted murder and assault.

He pleaded not guilty at a September 2017 arraignment in Nassau County Court.

Magwood said days after Vanderhall's arrest that he might use an insanity defense for his client, who he's also said suffers from mental illness.

Court records show Vanderhall admitted to the killings and the attempted murder shortly after his arrest, Newsday previously reported.

Police said at the time of his arrest that Vanderhall had a history of emotional issues and that his mother had kicked him out of the house shortly before her slaying and had an order of protection against him.

Prosecutors declined to comment on the case Friday.

Magwood said after court that he and prosecutors now would have another opportunity to have doctors evaluate Vanderhall, as happened before his client went to the psychiatric facility in New Hampton for treatment.

"Whenever you have severe mental illness, it's complicated … to make sure that people understand what's going on," the attorney said.

Magwood said some members of Vanderhall's family had been in touch with his client and while some had expressed support, there were mixed feelings.

"It's very emotional because it's a family member," the defense attorney said. "They are very concerned but … something horrible happened."

Family who came to court declined to comment.

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