NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

March 29, 2014

Judge questions Salem suspect's competency

Competency hearing ordered

By Doug Ireland
Staff Writer

---- — BRENTWOOD — Doubts about a Salem man’s competency prompted a judge to reject a proposed plea agreement yesterday.

James Lavoie, 52, was scheduled to plead guilty to charges in Rockingham Superior Court in connection with a violent incident last year when he allegedly attacked his therapist.

But Judge N. William Delker questioned Lavoie’s ability to fully understand the situation he was in and denied the plea bargain, according to Assistant County Attorney Terri Harrington.

Instead, Delker ordered that a competency hearing be scheduled. No date for the hearing has been set.

If the agreement were approved, Lavoie would have been incarcerated for at least three to seven years, and required to meet several conditions, including receiving mental health counseling, Harrington said.

Lavoie was arrested April 8, 2013, after the alleged attack at the Center for Life Management at 8 Howard St. in Salem. The therapist told police that Lavoie stormed into her office and started yelling, saying she ruined his life.

Lavoie then grabbed the woman and put her in a headlock, making it difficult for her to breathe, police said. She tried to break free, but Lavoie grabbed her by the hair and tried to close the office door, according to Salem police Lt. Robert Morin.

Another employee heard the commotion and came to help, freeing the woman from Lavoie’s grasp, he said. The two staff members locked themselves in the restroom and called for help.

When police responded, Lavoie was gone. A police K-9 was called in and Lavoie was tracked down at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post on North Broadway.

Lavoie was found seated at a table and holding a buck knife, Morin said. He was ordered to drop the knife, but didn’t. Officer Michael Verrochi then kicked it out of Lavoie’s hand and he was arrested.

Lavoie told police he intended to kill himself and “take someone with him,” Morin said.

Lavoie was ordered held on $100,000 cash bail and charged with second-degree assault, disorderly conduct, reckless conduct, placing another in danger and criminal threatening with a deadly weapon. He has been incarcerated since his arrest.

Lavoie would have also received a suspended sentence of a year and a half to three years if the plea bargain were approved, Harrington said.

He would have to spend five years on probation, avoid drugs and alcohol, not possess any weapons, pay the victim’s medical expenses and stay away from her.

Lavoie was represented by public defender Debra DuPont, who could not be reached for comment.

Lavoie also faces several other charges, including criminal threatening and resisting arrest charges, stemming from arrests in Derry in January 2013 and November 2012.