Accused murderer ruled 'mentally ill'

An accused murderer will not stand trial at this time for bludgeoning a man to death after a Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that the defendant is mentally incompetent.

Judge Robert C. Ervin ruled during a Feb. 24 session of Superior Criminal Court that Dennis Edward Scherzer, 45, of Hickory, is mentally ill and not capable of proceeding to trial for the death of Roland Simmons.

Simmons, 70, was found unconscious with severe head trauma in July 2009 at Hickory's Walden House Assisted Living Center. Hickory Police said Scherzer, another Walden House resident, beat Simmons in the head with a steel pipe.

Ervin also ruled that Scherzer be taken to a mental hospital for evaluation.

Ervin signed an order Jan. 18 committing Scherzer to Central Regional Hospital in Raleigh to determine whether the accused man was capable of proceeding with a trail, according to court documents. Scherzer was admitted to CRH on Feb. 9, where he was evaluated by the hospital's forensic unit and received a physical examination.

Dr. Nicole Wolfe issued a report Feb. 10 about CRH's findings regarding Scherzer's mental health. The report determined that Scherzer was "grossly disorganized in terms of his thought process and that his thought content was fraught with paranoid delusions."

The report says Scherzer showed some signs of improvement in his thought content after a change of medication, but he wasn't able to consistently demonstrate safe behavior with staff members. According to the court order, Scherzer threw water in the face of a medical technician and slapped the on-call psychiatrist who evaluated Scherzer for increasing agitation.

During Scherzer's evaluation, he told hospital staff that his actions were brought on by voices in his head who told him to commit the assaults. Court documents say Scherzer described symptoms of increasing paranoia and delusions leading up to the day Simmons was murdered.

Scherzer allegedly said he thought Simmons was the devil.

Those episodes, coupled with a long history of mental illness, are what led Ervin to his decision regarding Scherzer's inability to stand trial. Scherzer was diagnosed with mental illness at age 18 and was on disability as a result of the diagnosis. Ervin's order also states that Scherzer had "multiple psychiatric hospital admissions" during his lifetime and was previously convicted of multiple criminal offenses, including violent felony robbery.

Scherzer lived at Walden House for less than a year before Simmons' murder. Scherzer lived at the residence because of his mental impairment, and he needed assistance with daily living activities, such as taking medication regularly, performing basic hygiene tasks and managing his money.

Scherzer was arrested without incident for Simmons' murder within minutes after police arrived at Walden House in July 2009. He was taken to Catawba County jail, where he was held without bond.

While in jail, court documents reveal that Scherzer again demonstrated aggressive behavior to inmates and staff members. He allegedly lunged at an officer before being pepper-sprayed and tackled.

Scherzer also allegedly went through periods of "increased psychosis" while incarcerated. He had significant weight loss because he didn't eat regularly, and he needed to be isolated from other inmates.

Ervin's order concludes that Scherzer suffers from schizoaffective disorder, which prevents him from discussing legal issues in a logical manner. Mental health evaluators determined the man is unable to understand criminal proceedings against him and unable to comprehend how those proceedings affect the situation. Although Scherzer is under psychiatric evaluation now, it's possible for him to stand trial in the future.

Ervin's order states that if Scherzer regains mental capacity to undergo criminal proceedings, based on a doctor's evaluation, Scherzer will be released from the mental hospital into the custody of Catawba County Sheriff Coy Reid.