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Psychologist testifies in first 'hybrid' criminal trial in Nassau court

Faye Doomchin leaves Nassau police headquarters in 2018.

Faye Doomchin leaves Nassau police headquarters in 2018. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Faye Doomchin listened through a Skype connection at Nassau’s jail Tuesday as a psychologist testified about how she had told him “the devil” had been “jumping around from person to person” before she fatally stabbed a guest in her home two summers ago.

The Great Neck woman’s virtual participation in her Nassau County Court murder trial marked a new precedent in New York’s court system as top officials seek innovative ways to carry out justice during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I remember just attacking,” forensic psychologist Chuck Denison testified  of the account Doomchin gave him about the killing of Denise Webster, a 61-year-old tourist from England.

“There was evil in that house and I was sabotaged by that,” the defense expert, who testified by Skype from Wyoming, said Doomchin also said.

Denison said the defendant made those comments during part of a psychological exam he performed on her at the jail about two months after the Aug. 13, 2018, slaying.

Doomchin, 68, wore a jail uniform Tuesday and listened to testimony for most of the day without expression as her image, and at times her voice, was transmitted into the trial.

Those in the courtroom checked in with her from time to time, and made adjustments when the retired legal secretary said she couldn't hear what was happening.

But Doomchin broke down in sobs as prosecution witness Mitchell Kessler testified about a conversation they had in her home on the same afternoon as the stabbing.

Kessler, who introduced Doomchin and the victim, recalled how Doomchin at first pulled a knife out of a kitchen butcher block that day in 2018 and spoke about pain and depression she'd been experiencing.

"I thought … she was going to kill herself," the witness said, adding that he then calmed Doomchin and she put the knife down.

But not long after, Doomchin armed herself again and carried out the fatal attack, prompting Kessler to call 911, court records show.

The criminal proceeding is Long Island’s first criminal trial since the start of the pandemic, which for months led court officials to substitute in-person courthouse operations with a virtual format to prevent virus spread.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Bogle, who is presiding in the historic case, said as it kicked off Monday that he believed it also was the first time a “hybrid criminal trial,” involving both in-person and virtual testimony, would take place in New York.

The Nassau district attorney’s office has alleged Doomchin intentionally killed Webster by plunging a kitchen knife into her belly after the two ladies returned to the defendant’s home for cake and piano music after a lunch out with Kessler and his mother.

The defendant “knew what she was doing was wrong and she did it anyway,” prosecutor Martin Meaney said Monday in his opening statement.

But defense attorney Robert Gottlieb has contended that Doomchin, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia decades ago, is not criminally responsible for her actions because she is seriously mentally ill and didn’t know what she was doing was wrong.

Denison testified Tuesday he was certain Doomchin was “in the throes of a psychotic episode” during the killing. He also said Doomchin has had a persistent delusion for at least 20 years that “this evil force is permeating the world” and “she has a special role … to help rid the world of evil.”

Doomchin, who had knee replacement surgery, also was suffering from other health problems that included diverticulitis and back pain in 2018, Denison wrote in a report after examining her.

The expert also wrote that those other medical conditions were stressors that made her more likely to be overcome by "a positive symptom phase" of schizophrenia. 

But at the same time, Doomchin's psychiatric treatment "had become so minimal as to barely exist" by August 2018, Denison testified Tuesday.

During a cross-examination, the expert acknowledged he only had testified in one other murder trial in which the accused's mental capacity was in question. Denison also said that, because of technical difficulties, he wasn't able to hear Doomchin speak on a video interview she gave police and instead had to read a transcript.

Doomchin thanked her attorney and the judge as the day's proceedings drew to a close later Tuesday. But she also made another statement before the Skype connection ended.

"This is terrible, terrible, terrible, tragic," she said.