CHATHAM — For a few tense seconds, the handful of bailiffs surrounding Matthew Bernard during his arraignment Thursday leaned toward him as he took pen in hand to scrawl his signature on a court document.
One bailiff set a hand on the table near Bernard’s writing hand while the officers behind the teenager took a few steps toward him. Court-appointed defense attorney James C. Martin leaned in over Bernard’s left shoulder and appeared to whisper in his ear while staring at the document. The bailiffs appeared to relax only when Bernard handed back the pen.
Bernard’s mental health had been questioned ever since he made headlines last month by running naked and drenched in mace past watching reporters after a manhunt involving more than 100 police officers after three of his family members were found dead.
After his arrest, he needed hospital care because he repeatedly banged his head against the cage inside a police car, police reported.
He is being held by the state’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services instead of at a local jail, court documents state. His attorney has requested that a psychological evaluation be done.
Bernard, 18, stood stiff and attentive in Pittsylvania County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court throughout Thursday’s hearing, his first since his arrest.
Judge Brian Turpin read the charges: three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a homicide. Bernard is accused of killing his mother, Joan Bernard, 62; his sister, Emily Bernard Bivens, 25; and her 14-month-old son, Cullen Micah Bivens, at the Bernard family’s home in Keeling, north of Danville.
Emily Bernard Bivens was the wife of minor league baseball player Blake Bivens and Cullen Micah Bivens was his son. Blake Bivens is a pitcher for the Montgomery Biscuits, a Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
“Do you understand these charges?” Turpin said, turning to look at Bernard.
“Yes sir,” the teenager replied, in a low, soft voice. Turpin continued with his questions, asking if Bernard would collaborate with Martin, his appointed counsel. “Yes sir,” he answered again.
After Turpin scheduled the preliminary hearing for Nov. 6, the defense attorney said he had filed a motion for a competence and sanity evaluation.
The evaluation is to be completed by Oct. 31, according to the order signed by Turpin.