Navy stabbing suspect described as “seriously sick man” by his own attorney

Posted at 8:26 AM, Aug 31, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-01 06:12:06-04

Norfolk, Va. (WTKR) -A Navy Sailor accused of stabbing a fellow Sailor nearly to death more than a year ago was described by his own attorney as a "seriously sick man" on Monday.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Wilbur G. Harwell was arrested hours after a knife attack on Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Powell on June 6, 2014.

Wilbur G. Harwell

Wilbur G. Harwell

The incident occurred around 8:30 a.m. inside the barracks at Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads, Portsmouth Annex in Portsmouth, Virginia. That's where Naval Medical Center Portsmouth is located.

Witnesses reported seeing Harwell fighting with Powell. The witnesses tried to pull the sailors apart when they noticed Powell was bleeding badly. Another witness saw Harwell holding a knife, according to previous court documents .

Eventually, witnesses were able to separate the sailors. Powell got up and “began clinching his throat and started walking down the corridor out of the barracks attempting to ask for help,” according to a summary.

During an Article 32 Preliminary Hearing Monday, August 31, 2015 at Naval Station Norfolk, Harwell's civilian attorney Greg McCormack described his client's mental capacity as shifting on a "day to day basis."

The purpose of the Article 32 hearing is to review the charges, determine probable cause, establish jurisdiction and recommend what actions should be taken.

It is not a trial and is advisory only to the convening authority, who in this case is Rear Admiral Rick Williamson, Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic.

McCormack complained in court about the handling of Harwell's long-form mental health evaluation, including statements Harwell made, which he says was improperly given to government prosecutors.

He called the handling of the case "bungled since day one" and argued the case should be turned over to another convening authority.

McCormack also described Harwell's "very serious psychological issues" before the stabbing incident, including being subjected to electroshock therapy, being cut off from psychiatric medicine "cold turkey" and having heard "voices talking to him."

Trial counsel Lieutenant Commander Courtney Lewis, Judge Advocate General's Corps, described the attack on PO2 Powell in grim detail during her closing statement.

She told the courtroom that Harwell slit Powell's throat from one side to the other "with specific intent to kill" and stabbed him no less than seven times in the chest and abdomen.

Lt. Cmdr. Lewis also said that words spoken to the victim just after slitting his throat also contributed to the intent to kill and that had it not been for the close proximity to an operating room, Powell would have likely died.

According to Lewis, on the men who tried to pull Harwell off of Powell was a "Petty Officer Foster" who then drove the getaway car that allowed Harwell to leave the Portsmouth base.

He was eventually found hours later at a hotel at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

Preliminary hearing officer, Lieutenant Commander Paige Ormiston is expected to offer a recommendation in the coming weeks.

Harwell allowed McCormack to do most of the talking in court, but did tell the courtroom he understood the charges against him.

His mother, girlfriend and father all sat quietly a few feet behind Harwell.

He's been held at Naval Consolidated Brig Chesapeake.


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Court document: Harwell’s Criminal Complaint

Court document: Harwell’s Probable Cause Affidavit

UPDATE: Prosecutors drop charges against accused NMCP attacker, clear way for court martial

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