Moncks Corner - James Carpenter claims to hear voices in his head. He's referred to himself as a paranoid schizophrenic and, during conversations, has launched into diatribes about homosexuality and male domination.
Following his 2012 arrest in the killing of a Tennessee woman in Berkeley County, he has rarely cooperated with his attorney about his defense strategy and has made odd statements.
But a S.C. Department of Mental Health forensic psychiatrist, who evaluated Carpenter, believes much of that behavior is an act, according to testimony heard during his competency hearing Wednesday afternoon.
Circuit Judge Kristi Harrington ruled 34-year-old Carpenter, of Charleston, is competent to stand trial and declined a request by his attorney to order further mental evaluation.
Dr. Marla Domino spent about three and a half hours evaluating Carpenter and reviewed jail records before offering the opinion that the man is feigning symptoms of mental illness.
"He made several odd statements," Domino testified. "He was trying to present himself as having mental illness."
Domino said Carpenter has described symptoms that are not consistent with genuine mental illness, for example, the frequency in which Carpenter says he hears voices.
Carpenter has been placed on suicide watch several times while jailed, according to Domino. Jail staff believe, however, those episodes are based on attention-seeking behavior, she testified. Jail staff also referred to Carpenter's behavior as "manipulative," Domino said in court.
During one meeting with Domino, Carpenter said he was a paranoid schizophrenic and wants to plead insanity, she said. "These are not traits from someone who has a true mental illness."
Domino also pointed to Carpenter's good hygiene and to logical conversations they've shared to support her opinion.
"He's a very intelligent man. I don't want him to benefit from my testimony about that, so I can speak in generalities," Domino testified. She believes Carpenter suffers from a personality disorder but even if the other symptoms were genuine, they would not affect his ability to stand trial, she said.
However, another forensic psychiatrist who testified in the hearing, Dr. William Mulberry, said he could not reach a conclusion on Carpenter's competency, and recommended further observation.
During his meetings with Mulberry, Carpenter had difficulty staying on task in conversations with his attorney, according to Mulberry. In one meeting at the jail, Carpenter refused to wear pants that day, Mulberry said.
Carpenter typically deflects from questions and becomes defensive when his attorney, Cody Groeber or Mulberry speak to him about his case, Mulberry testified.
"We come to him to tell him we're preparing for trial and he refuses to participate for largely irrational reasons," Mulberry said.
Carpenter's discussions of male domination and homosexuality could be evidence of psychosis, Mulberry testified.
Carpenter's feigning of symptoms, however, could be exaggerations of genuine symptoms of mental illness rather than total fabrications, Mulberry said.
"You can miss an underlying psychotic disorder," he said.
Groeber told the judge he's concerned about how Carpenter's mental health will affect their defense.
"I'm fearful I would be going to trial without a discussion of evidence for trial and what defenses might be," Groeber said. "I haven't been able to have those conversations."
Ninth Circuit Assistant Solicitor Anne Williams, who is prosecuting the case, agreed it is clear Carpenter is not cooperating with his attorney, but "it's not whether he cooperates with him, it's whether he has the competency to," she said.
Carpenter is charged with murder and criminal sexual conduct in the killing of 21-year-old Jasmine Isabella Marrone. Her body was found under a blanket in the backseat of her Nissan coupe outside a gas station in Summerville on Sept. 23, 2012.
An autopsy determined she died of strangulation, and police found a small sledgehammer in the car along with evidence of what appeared to be blunt force trauma to her head, according to an affidavit.
Carpenter was driving her car but was stopped by police because the car matched the description of a reported drunk driver, according to authorities. Police noticed blood on his shirt and discovered he was wanted on an out-of-state warrant. He was arrested before officers found Marrone's body in the car.
"She hit me and I hit her back," he told officers, according to the incident report.
Marrone was living in Nashville with her mother but was visiting friends in Charleston at the time.
A date has not been scheduled for the murder trial.
Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.