June 21, 2018
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Competency test ordered for Vt. murder suspect


BURLINGTON, Vt. — A man charged with killing a neighbor whose body was found under a railroad bridge was ordered held without bail Monday pending a competency evaluation.

Daniel Whalon was referred to the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury after a mental health screener recommended it Monday. The inquiry will focus on whether Whalon understands the proceedings in his murder case.

Defense attorney Robert Katims said Whalon, 25, is “pretty distraught.”

“It may just be a matter of stabilizing a little bit,” Katims said.

A subdued-looking Whalon entered no plea Monday at his arraignment on a second-degree murder charge in the killing of Ralph Bell, who was stabbed in the chest and neck before falling 50 feet from a railroad trestle into woods and brush. Bell’s body was found July 19.

Police and acquaintances say Bell and Whalon, who lived in the same Burlington apartment building, had been involved in an ongoing “intimate relationship” before the fatal confrontation on a bridge.

Police say Whalon gave several stories about what happened to Bell, 54, when he was interviewed by police.

At first, he said Bell brandished a knife and wanted sex, then he said Bell had tried to pull his pants down and later he said they were out walking when Bell made a physical advance on him and he found a knife on the railroad tracks and stabbed him.

Bell staggered and fell off the railroad bridge, Whalon told police, according to an affidavit by police Lt. Tim Charland.

Whalon said he was scared and ran home, then wrote a note — pretending to be in Bell’s hand — that he put on Bell’s door, saying Bell was in New York for a few weeks and was OK and would call when he got back.

Bell’s sister-in-law Leslie Bell, of Colchester, found the note.

“At the time, I didn’t realize its importance,” she said.

A fingerprint taken off the note matched that of Whalon, who has a criminal record dating to 2002 that involves property crimes, fraud and misdemeanor assault.

A police search of Whalon’s apartment found Bell’s wallet and credit cards, a bloodied windbreaker, a piece of paper with Bell’s email log-on and password and a stack of envelopes that matched the one used to write the note on, the affidavit said.

Police say Whalon had sexted nude photographs of himself to Bell but their relationship got rocky after Whalon started dating a woman.

A longtime friend of Bell’s, Rick Sourdiff, said Bell had sold some of his furniture to buy clothes for Whalon. He said Bell cared about Whalon.

“That man did not need to die that way,” Sourdiff said. “He didn’t need to die, period. He was kind, caring.”

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