On the evening of the verdict, Kristy Maness called her mother-in-law to tell her the news.
“Things didn’t go our way today.”
After an all-day bench trial in Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court Tuesday, Judge Michael McGinty found Brian Alexander Hicks not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting death of 34-year old Army veteran Gabriel Ryan Maness inside a Norge grocery store.
The weight of testimony by a pair of forensic psychologists determining Hicks’ mental defect weighed heavy on McGinty when making his decision.
Even though both sides and McGinty agreed Hicks pulled the trigger on the .45 caliber handgun around 8 a.m. April 17, 2016 and killed Maness, Hicks was “unable to distinguish right from wrong,” McGinty said, and thus “cannot be held legally responsible.”
“I was absolutely shocked, to be honest,” Maness’s mother Suzanne Engle said of the verdict from her home in St. Louis, Missouri, where Gabriel Maness — Gabe to his friends and family — grew up. “I think I thought because they said he was competent to stand trial, that it was not an option for him to plead insanity, but clearly, I was wrong.”
Kristy Maness, and Gabriel Maness’ father, Jim Maness, were both in the courtroom for the duration of the trial.
Carla Galusha, a forensic psychologist at Central State Hospital who evaluated Hicks twice — on May 24, 2016 and June 1, 2016 — said during her evaluations of Hicks, who served for 20 years in the Air Force, that he was polite and cooperative, and that he exhibited no psychotic beliefs or hallucinations.
Galusha said during the trial that Hicks, who had been treated for depression on three different occasions years before the shooting, had been in a manic state just prior to, during and shortly after Maness’ death.
“He did meet the criteria for insanity at the time of the offense,” Galusha testified.
During her evaluations of Hicks, Galusha had determined him to be “well enough that I deemed him competent for trial.”
She also testified that Hicks, according to medical records she examined during her evaluation of him, had attempted suicide twice, and that he displayed romantic and religious delusions, issues which manifested in the latter stages of Hicks’ employment with Booz Allen Hamilton, a government consulting firm in Springfield.
“I think it’s a very subjective thing,” Engle said, talking about Hicks and his mental deficiencies, “and if I take the emotion out of it, if I could, and I looked at it a different way, I would probably have to weigh it just on its merits as well.
“Of course, that’s my son. And the bigger thing (is) that I hope we have better mental health options available for veterans, because clearly that has been something. He did avail himself of that, obviously, and he had been hospitalized, but I don’t know where was the crack was that he fell through or what it was.”
Charles Richardson, who worked with Hicks for about two years at Booz Allen Hamilton and directly supervised him through April 2016, testified that he initially didn’t have concerns about Hicks, who he showed up to work on time and wore appropriate business attire.
The first issue of concern for Richardson came sometime in 2015 when Hicks came to him on a Friday and told him he was planning to resign from his job. Hicks, who went to work for Booz Allen Hamilton after serving in the Air Force, emailed Richardson a letter of resignation, but over the ensuing weekend, Hicks asked to rescind the resignation, telling his boss that he had discussed it with family and friends.
Richardson testified that Hicks spent May 30 to Aug. 30, 2015 at a psychiatric ward at the Fort Belvoir Army base.
When Hicks, 56, returned to work, Richardson said Hicks functioned normally and was on medication. By March 2016, Richardson learned of another episode in which Hicks had behaved toward another employee “in a manner that they were not comfortable with.”
It wasn’t until April 15, 2016, two days before he shot Gabe Maness, that Richardson said Hicks displayed behavior that alarmed another employee who requested an immediate meeting. Hicks talked in religious overtones and dressed in a camouflage vest and hat, similar attire to what he was wearing at the time of the shooting two days later.
“I felt that was somewhat unusual for work,” Richardson testified, talking about Hicks’ work attire.
Prosecutor Nate Green asked Richardson whether Hicks seemed normal other than when he was speaking religiously.
“He seemed that way, yes,” Richardson said.
When he left the stand, Richardson walked past Hicks and, with his left thumb, flashed a thumbs-up in Hicks’ direction.
Another Booz Allen Hamilton employee, Andrew Wright, said in court he encountered Hicks in the lobby and brought him to a colleague’s office. Wright said Hicks went with him willingly.
“He was calm. He didn’t seem dangerous,” Wright testified, though he later said that as they were in the elevator, Hicks asked Wright whether he was “in the dark or in the light.”
Still, Hicks was placed on leave, Wright testified. Wright was also aware that Booz Allen Hamilton had hired a private investigator to follow Hicks.
After the shooting
While Hicks was sitting on the floor of the Farm Fresh after the shooting, James City County Police Officer Robert McKenzie said Hicks had told him that he noticed Maness in Falls Church the week prior to the shooting and believed him to be casing the store for a robbery.
Both Brandon Waltrip, Hicks’ attorney, and Green, agreed that Hicks never encountered Maness prior to the shooting in the Farm Fresh.
Green later asked Galusha whether Hicks understood that he was holding a handgun and that he was killing someone.
“I think that he knew he was holding a handgun and he believed he was acting in the right,” Galusha said.
Later in his testimony, McKenzie said Hicks had told him that Fairfax County police had said to call 911 if Hicks ever encountered the individual he thought he saw in Falls Church.
“I still think that Mr. Hicks was operating on his delusional belief system,” Galusha said, when asked about what Hicks had been told about calling police.
At the James City County Law Enforcement Center, where Hicks was taken about two hours after the shooting, he and McKenzie talked about numerous topics. Hicks spoke of a daughter who was graduating college in a few weeks and he wanted to see her.
“He was compliant from the moment I met him to the time I left him,” McKenzie said.
Kevin McWilliams, a forensic psychologist with the Williamsburg Psychology Center, evaluated Hicks on three occasions in fall 2016 and said that at the time of the shooting, he didn’t seem to understand what he was doing. Rather, McWilliams said Hicks believed he was helping the police by shooting Maness, and reading from one of his reports during his testimony, said Hicks described it as a “spidey sense that he had to stop Maness because he was up to something evil.”
“In his mind, not only is it not wrong, it’s the right thing to do,” McWilliams said of Hicks.
The fact Hicks had suffered from depression didn’t mean he would also suffer manic episodes, but because he had depression, it made it more likely, McWilliams testified.
And, rather than cycling in and out of manic episodes, McWilliams said Hicks’ manic tendencies were in him throughout the shooting, but not always on the surface.
McWilliams noted that Hicks’ speeding in his car to elude the private investigators hired by Booz Allen Hamilton after Hicks was placed on leave, along with inappropriate relations, is consistent with a manic phase. So, too, was Hicks’ driving toward Virginia Beach, stopping at a convenience store, and soon after that, at a Farm Fresh in Norge, following Maness in the store and shooting him, McWilliams testifed.
But Gabe should be remembered for more than the moment he was shot and killed, Engle said.
He’s the man from Providence Forge who could fix anyone’s car, was excited for the birth of his second child and was Engle’s gregarious, second-born son.
Engle described Kristy as shy, but stoic, and someone who has been strong the way she felt Gabe would have been had the two reversed roles.
“He was the rules guy in the family,” Engle said. “And he was very much the protector of everybody, and when he got married he became that protector for (his family). For me, what typifies him, is, he was a heating and air conditioning guy, and his wake was flooded with customers. Would you go to your HVAC guy’s funeral?”
Engle said the family is at a place where they can share funny stories.
She said she didn’t know what justice would look like, but her fear is that Hicks will go to a mental facility and be released. That, she said, would be an injustice.
“He was so gregarious, and when this happened, the overarching theme in our family was, ‘Gabe probably said hi to that guy.’ Gabe smiled at everybody. He was huge, let’s face it. He was happy. He was so happy all the time.”
Larger than life.
LaRoue can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.