Brandon Council’s federal death penalty trial ended before it began, and without explanation, on Friday.
The move came after the defense requested a competency evaluation and wrote in a court filing that Council is “presently mentally ill and unable to proceed.” If convicted, Council could face the death penalty related to a double murder and robbery of the Conway CresCom bank in 2017.
The specific reasons for the request were not detailed in the court filing. They were also not addressed in public court on Friday. Defense lawyers went into a closed-door hearing with the judge to discuss the matter. At one point during that hearing, three U.S. Marshals rushed into the room and asked “what’s going on?”
About 20 minutes later, the courtroom reopened as defense and government lawyers were leaving for the day. The judge had already left and Council was not in the room. There was no public ruling issued from the bench if the competency evaluation request was granted.
Defense Attorney Duane Bryant said during the opening proceedings that an expert was on his way to Florence to evaluate Council.
Friday was expected to be the start of the defense case, if they chose to call witnesses, after the government rested its case on Thursday.
“At the present time, Brandon Council is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and is not assisting properly in his defense,” his defense attorneys wrote in their motion.
The government took three days to call witnesses as it presented its case against Council. Video showed Council entering the 16th Avenue branch on Aug. 21, 2017. Inside, he waited about 45 seconds and then shot Donna Major twice at the teller counter. He then ran into Katie Skeen’s office where he shot her twice.
Council then ran back and shot Major in the head before robbing the bank of about $15,000.
Council took Skeen’s car and fled Conway to North Carolina. He was arrested by authorities two days later.
In an interview with police, Council said he went into the bank intending to shooting whoever was inside. He said he was basically homeless and hit his bottom before committing the robbery.