April 17 marked three years since Gabriel Maness’s family lost a son, a husband, a father.
Three years ago, Maness drove to the Norge Farm Fresh to buy donuts for his pregnant wife and 5-year-old daughter. He never got to meet his then-unborn second daughter.
Standing in one of the store’s aisles, the 34-year-old Army veteran was shot and killed by Brian Alexander Hicks, 58, of Woodbridge, according to court records and Virginia Gazette archives. Hicks was found not guilty by reason of insanity on May 2, 2017.
While the defense, prosecutors and Judge Michael McGinty agreed Hicks pulled the trigger, he couldn’t be held legally culpable for shooting Maness, according to Virginia Gazette archives.
“Hicks appears to have been actively psychotic at the time …,” a mental health evaluation said in January 2017.
When Judge Michael McGinty handed down the verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, Hicks was taken into the custody of the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services, according to court records.
Now, almost two years after his acquittal, Hicks could be released from custody.
Hicks’ attorney Brandon Waltrip declined to comment on the case.
On July 17, the Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court will review the court order that gave custody of Hicks to the state.
Prior to that hearing, prosecutors will review any recommendations that come from the hospital and will ask Hicks’s treatment team questions about his condition, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green.
While Hicks’ health-care team will give his office recommendations, Green said he’s not obligated to follow them.
“They are the experts in their field and therefore their opinion should be given tremendous respect, but at the end of the day it is still their opinion,” Green wrote in an email. “(I)f I don’t agree with their recommendation, it is my responsibility to present to the court why I disagree and what I believe the court should do.”
The court hearing and subsequent decision by the presiding judge could result in a continued order of hospitalization, conditional release or just plain release, according to Virginia Code.
Hicks has been hospitalized since his acquittal, according to court records. Green said Hicks has been allowed to leave the hospital campus on supervised trips.
“We’re pretty sure he’ll probably be released in July,” said Lois Dennler, Maness’s mother-in-law. ”We’re not happy with it. We feel like we understand what mental health is like, it kinda takes over your body, but this man had an opportunity to turn his life around. He was in a psych ward eight months prior to that for three months.
“This could probably have been avoided.”
Hicks had sought mental health treatment on and off including inpatient psychiatric stays since 2005, the court filings said.
In the months before he killed Maness, Hicks was taken off an anti-psychotic medicine and began to show signs of psychosis, according to the mental health evaluation.
Hicks told an evaluator “I’m in touch with God and he communicated with me and tells me things that will happen in the future … God told me I’m getting remarried and having a family and a job in philanthropy.”
Hicks has shown no signs of drug, domestic, sexual or physical abuse throughout his life, the court documents said.
Maness’s wife and his children have had to cope without him, Dennler said.
Dennler said she and her daughter, Kristy Maness, have lobbied Congress and members of the General Assembly to craft a law to hold people who could be found not guilty by reason of insanity more accountable.
At the end of the day though, nothing will change what happened three years ago, Dennler said.
“It’s not going to bring Gabe back.”
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.