A defense attorney appointed to handle the sentencing and appeals for convicted Viktor Bout accomplice Richard Chichakli is questioning his client’s mental competency. The judge in the case has ordered a psychiatric evaluation.
Mitchell Dinnerstein, the latest in a line of a court-appointed lawyers assigned to work with Chichakli, raised concerns about Chichakli’s mental state in a letter to the judge last week.
“After my careful review of the trial transcript and during conversations with Mr. Chichakli about certain motions that he wanted pursued, I came to the conclusion that a question may arise to the defendant Chichakli’s mental competency to assist in his own defense,” Dinnerstein wrote to U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III. Pauley oversaw the trial that resulted in Chichakli’s conviction last December on conspiracy and wire fraud counts.
Chichakli has a history of volatile outbursts during his running legal battles with the government over his relationship with Bout,who is serving a 25-year term at a federal prison in Marion, Ill. on conspiracy charges related to arms trafficking. Chichakli, a Syrian-born former accountant who lived in Dallas, joined Bout in Russia in 2005 after the Treasury Department froze his accounts. During his trial last year, Chichakli’s relations with his previous attorney, Marlon Kirton, appeared to fray during court apppearances.
At one point, a Chichakli defender wrote the judge describing what he claimed was Chichakli’s agitation during heated exchanges with the lawyer. Chichakli later told the judge that Kirton’s decisions not to call several witnesses that the defendant hoped would testify were among his reasons for demanding a new trial.
The letter was among what Pauley described as a “barrage of correspondence” sent him earlier this month from Chichakli, his lawyers and several friends writing in support before his sentencing. Chichakli was convicted last December on single counts of conspiracy to violate federal sanctions, commit money laundering and wire fraud. He was also found guilty of six counts of wire fraud. He faces a maximum 5-year prison sentence for the first conspiracy count and 20 years for each of the remaining 8 counts.
In earlier court documents, Chichakli and Kirton both described his fragile state during his incarceration at federal detention facilities in New York leading up to his trial. Throughout 2013, Chichakli complained about his lawyer’s moves, his dietary restrictions, his feuding with prison officials and his lack of access to a computer.
Last week, Dinnerstein said in his letter to Pauley that he had discussed Chichakli’s situation with a forensic psychiatrist. On April 9, he told the judge of his concerns. Pauley responded by ordering a psychiatric evaluation for Chichakli and setting May 30 as the date for his next court appearance.