VANCOUVER, Wash. — The suspect in a gruesome double-homicide in Vancouver appeared in court Tuesday to determine his competency to stand trial.
Clark County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Aaron Bartlett said the suspect, 35-year-old Dustin Zapel, was found competent by Western State Hospital, but the defense is challenging that ruling. On Tuesday in court, a contested competency hearing was scheduled for Nov. 20 at 1:30 p.m.
Zapel has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder for the July 16 fatal stabbings of 42-year-old Thomas West and 55-year-old James Olsen. He also faces a first-degree attempted murder charge for trying to attack 51-year-old David Garner, who was able to escape.
Zapel told police he was "lying in bed when he decided to kill people," according to a court document.
Officers arrived at the Central Park Place apartments near Clark College in the 1900 block of Fort Vancouver Way at 1:32 a.m. on July 16 to investigate a report of a possible stabbing.
The apartments are a residential facility, on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs property managed by the Vancouver Housing Authority. A spokesperson for the Portland VA Health Care System, Dan Herristad, said the facility houses 75 people and half are veterans.
Officers found the bodies of West and Olsen in a fenced-in courtyard, according to a declaration of probable cause filed by the arresting officer.
Garner told officers he heard a "scuffle and growling sounds" outside his bedroom, which faces the courtyard. He looked out and saw Zapel, a resident of the apartments, in the kitchen with a knife. Garner said something to Zapel, who said something and then lunged at Garner with the knife. Garner told officers he fled the kitchen and went back into his room.
Officers were able to view surveillance video, which showed Zapel stabbing Olsen more than 20 times in the head, torso and stomach. The stabbing appeared to be unprovoked, according to police. West's body was found a short distance away. He also appeared to have been stabbed to death.
Zapel was located later that morning and taken into custody. During a police interview, he told two detectives that he was "lying in bed when he decided to kill people." He walked out of his room and stabbed West. He then stabbed the other man, whom Zapel said he didn't know. He then entered the kitchen and tried to stab Garner by "lunging at him."
On the day of the murders, a neighbor told KGW he he woke to a horrifying sight: his friend's body, outside, on the ground.
"I looked out my window and saw him, lying there dead. It's just breathtaking, you know, it's shocking," said the neighbor, who did not want to be identified. "I can't imagine in my wildest dreams him giving anyone any reason to hurt him. He was a harmless person. Really sweet, loved by everyone."
Another neighbor described the attack as "a real shock."
“Very surprised, something like this, it’s not anything we would expect here,” said one veteran who did not want to be identified. “Not that we’re all close-knit, but we walk around and interact. It's a shock. It's a real shock."