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At times, he smiled. At other moments, he seemed to be paying attention to whoever was speaking in Room 215 of the D.C. Superior Court this afternoon, during a preliminary hearing for murder.

Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Jasper Spires—the 18-year-old suspect in the July 4 Metro stabbing that killed Kevin Sutherland, 24—was today ordered by Judge Robert E. Morin to undergo a mental-competency evaluation and be held in jail until his next hearing, tentatively scheduled for August 28.

Although witnesses on the Metro train were not able to identify Spires, according to court documents, prosecutors presented evidence that Spires boarded a Red Line train at the Rhode Island Avenue station and attempted to seize Sutherland’s cell phone as they headed toward the next stop, NoMa-Gallaudet, shortly before 1 p.m. The evidence included surveillance footage at both Metro stations, a backpack, and a knife covered with blood, which investigators have identified as Sutherland’s. Following the incident, law enforcement official recovered a broken Android phone and a pair of camouflage pants that they then linked to Spires using DNA testing.

The video footage shows a man bolting from the NoMa station after dumping a black backpack in a trashcan. Inside the bag, authorities found the DNA-matched camouflage pants in addition to what Metropolitan Police Department detective Gabriel Truby described as an “ID/healthcare card belonging to Jasper Spires.” Sutherland suffered between 30 and 40 stab wounds, seemingly all over his body: “his chest, abdomen, upper right back, left side, right side, left arm and right arm,” an arrest affidavit states.

Antoini M. Jones, Spires’ attorney, declined to comment about his client’s mental competence, and said he did not know if Spires had been using K2, a synthetic drug that police have indicated the suspect may have been high on. Jones added that one of Spires’ family members was present in the courtroom this afternoon, but he did not specify whom. As for Spires’ smiling at various points throughout the hearing, Jones explained, “He’s 18 years old; he’s probably very nervous.”

Just two days before the stabbing, on July 2, Spires was arrested for misdemeanor assault after he allegedly tried to rob a man in Friendship Heights. Spires was released for that incident on July 3. He had no prior criminal record, and he didn’t take anything from the victim, according to police.

“Those three days—that is the behavior of someone who obviously has a lot going on in their life,” said Anita McBride, who identified herself as a cousin of Sutherland’s and attended the hearing this afternoon. “I noticed the smiles. Is that a defense mechanism? I can’t tell. I’m not a psychiatric professional.”

According to court documents, Spires had “no fixed address” at the time of his arrest on July 6.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery