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Mentally ill man who killed Virginia mom won't face criminal charges: 'Her murder was imaginary'

Posted at 1:52 PM, May 29, 2024

RICHMOND, Va – A man who was arrested for stabbing and killing a woman at a Richmond assisted living facility will not face the criminal charges brought against him after he was found unable to stand trial due to his mental illness. The outcome left Natalie Simmons's family feeling a lack of justice and prosecutors grappling with limited options when they're placed in what they said is becoming a more common situation.

Now that the case has departed the criminal justice system, what comes next will remain largely secretive.

The fatal stabbing of Natalie Simmons

Tyler Simmons remembers his mother Natalie Simmons as caring, loving, and selfless despite the challenges she faced.

"She was one of the best and she had a very rough life," Tyler Simmons told CBS 6. "I've always said that she lived the hardest life of anybody I've ever known, and yet still somehow had one of the biggest hearts of anybody I've ever known."

Natalie's life ended tragically in October 2021 when Richmond Police said she was stabbed to death by a man named Quincey Rawlings.

Natalie was one of two stabbing victims.

"I mean, it was a heinous, brutal act of violence," Simmons said.

Natalie and Tyler Simmons
Natalie and Tyler Simmons

Both Natalie Simmons and Rawlings were living at the former Tiffanie's Manor on North Jefferson Street, an assisted living facility that cared for people with mental health conditions.

Rawlings was charged with malicious wounding and unlawful stabbing.

As he awaited his day in court, records showed he was held at Central State Hospital, a state-run psychiatric facility. It was determined that Rawlings needed to undergo competency evaluations.

But for the next two and a half years, Tyler Simmons noticed there was hardly any movement in the case.

"I've kept up with his court dates, and I would just see, okay, it got continued, got continued, got continued. And it was like clockwork," Simmons said, adding that he would sometimes "wake up in the middle of the night and look at the court docket to see if anything’s changed.”

Then, out of the blue, an update appeared. It was an update he wasn't expecting.

Charges essentially dropped

Rawling's charges were nolle prossed in March 2024, meaning they were essentially dropped.

"This feels so overwhelmingly wrong," Simmons said. "It feels like it didn't happen. That's what it feels like. It feels like it didn't happen, and that is what bothers me immensely because it did happen," Tyler Simmons said.

Simmons said he immediately contacted the Richmond Police detective who put him in touch with the prosecutor in the Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney's Office who worked the case.

Simmons said the prosecutor explained that letting the charges go was the only option because a judge ruled Rawlings was unrestorably incompetent.

“She said, 'But it's the law and it just is what it is,'" Simmons recalled. "How often do you have to see this happen that you can easily just say, 'It is what it is?' That's way harder for me to hear I'm sure than it was for her to say."

Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Colette McEachin, the city's top prosecutor, acknowledged Simmons' pain.

"I wouldn't try to defend the current status quo because there is nothing in his eyes, and there's nothing I could say that would make it defensible. I know that what he wanted was for the man who was accused of killing his mother to be held accountable in court," McEachin told CBS 6.

"This is not that unusual"

But the reality, she said, is a "high number" of defendants have mental health problems, and McEachin has anecdotally observed an increase in those who are being found incompetent.

"This is not that unusual. There is, probably every week in Richmond in General District Court— a competency hearing, every couple of weeks," she said.

McEachin said Rawlings was evaluated by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services at least five times before the court determined he was not mentally capable of standing trial for the foreseeable future. At that point, the case became a civil matter, and Rawlings was committed to Central State Hospital in Dinwiddie County where he was already being held.

But McEachin doesn't know for how long Rawlings will be committed and her office won't know if or when he'll be released back to the public.

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, which oversees Virginia's psychiatric facilities, said how long an individual remains at a hospital after being deemed unrestorably incompetent "varies based on the treatment needs of the individual and the available resources in the community to develop a safe and appropriate discharge placement."

J. Martelino, one of Rawlings' past defense attorneys, said he doesn't believe Rawlings is "going to be released to the public anytime in the foreseeable future."

Theoretically, since the charges were nolle prossed, they could come back, but McEachin said that probably won't happen.

"It's highly unlikely that he will ever be competent to stand trial," McEachin said.

"Do you feel like that is a fair and just system?" reporter Tyler Layne asked.

"I think it's as fair and just as the system can be knowing that there's no perfect system," McEachin said.

Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Colette McEachin
Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Colette McEachin

Mortelino said the law "does not punish those who cannot comprehend what is going on around them," calling it a "fundamental aspect" of the system.

The Virginia Code states that when a defendant is unrestorably incompetent, he'll either be released, committed, or certified at a training center, but McEachin said all the training centers in Virginia have closed except for one in Chesapeake.

"So that leaves two options: You can be released on the street, or you can be committed to Central State. That's it. And that is something that the legislature has to deal with and have the political will to fix," McEachin said.

"Hard-pressed" hospitals

The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) said court orders for competency restoration are the "number one" reason for admission to state hospitals.

"The growing numbers of people with behavioral health disorders in jail has led to a soaring increase in forensic admissions at our 8 adult state hospitals," Lauren Cunninham, a spokesperson for DBHDS, said.

She said hospitals are "hard-pressed" by mandates in the Virginia Code requiring state facilities to accept both forensic and civic admissions through a temporary detention order.

Forensic patients, which are patients involved in a criminal proceeding, make up 97% of Central State Hospital's maximum security unit and 87% of the hospital's non-maximum security units.

Cunningham said the number of forensic patients at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg has "gone through the roof," making up 90% of the total hospital census.

"Similar to the unintended consequences of the Bed of Last Resort law, the high number of forensic patients has a huge impact on hospitals census, which in turn can impact patient safety, staffing, and the wait times for individuals under civil temporary detention orders to get a bed at a state hospital," Cunningham said.

"Her murder was imaginary"

Simmons said he doesn't know what could've been done differently to achieve a different result for the man accused of killing his mother, but he knows he doesn't feel at peace with it

He describes the outcome as if "her murder was imaginary."

Simmons said he leans on his faith to find forgiveness for Rawlings, but he doesn't know who or what to rely on to find justice.

"It's odd to me to think that you have these laws on the books and the penalties are so stiff, and then they just whittle them down like crazy to nothing," Simmons said.

Watch Tyler Layne's reporting on CBS 6 and WTVR.com. Have something for Tyler to investigate? Email him.

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