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Double-homicide suspect has history of mental illness

Columbian - 7/17/2017

July 17--The man accused of stabbing two men to death early Sunday morning at a Vancouver apartment complex has a history of mental illness and competency issues -- which in the past, led to the dismissal of other criminal cases, a prosecutor said Monday.

Dustin L. Zapel, 35, appeared this morning in Clark County Superior Court on suspicion of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.

Court records identify one of the victims as 42-year-old Thomas West and tentatively identify the other as 55-year-old James Olsen. A third surviving victim was identified as David Garner, 51. All of the men reportedly lived at the Central Park Place Apartments.

The apartment complex is on the Portland VA Vancouver Medical Center campus, but is a transitional housing program managed and operated by the Vancouver Housing Authority.

Deputy Prosecutor Aaron Bartlett said that Zapel has had prior felony and misdemeanor cases dismissed due to competency issues. Zapel poses an extreme danger to the community, he said, and asked the judge to set his bail at $5 million.

Judge Bernard Veljacic set bail at $3 million. Zapel will be arraigned July 28.

Suspect 'decided to kill'

At about 1:30 a.m., Vancouver police responded to the apartment complex, 1900 Fort Vancouver Way, for a possible stabbing. The stabbing suspect, identified as Zapel, had left the scene, however.

Garner told police he heard what sounded like a "scuffle and growling sounds" coming from outside his bedroom window in the courtyard. He went to check on the noise, and as he approached the communal kitchen, he saw fellow resident, Zapel, in the kitchen holding a knife, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in Superior Court.

Garner said that when he spoke to Zapel, he responded with something unintelligible. Zapel then started coming toward Garner with the knife, and the man went back into his room, the affidavit said.

Upon arriving at the scene, police found West and Olsen dead in the courtyard with cuts and puncture wounds to their bodies. Video surveillance from inside and outside the complex shows Zapel stabbing Olsen multiple times in the head, torso and stomach. His body was found a short distance away from West's body. Police said the attack appeared to be unprovoked, court records state.

Officers launched a manhunt that led to Zapel's capture about seven hours after the slayings.

In an interview with detectives, Zapel said he was lying in bed when he decided to kill people, according to the affidavit. He said he went outside, found West and stabbed him in the head and chest and bit him in the head. He then repeatedly stabbed "the other guy," who's name he didn't know, he said, in the stomach, court documents said.

Zapel said he came back inside the building and saw Garner, whom he lunged at, trying to stab him, court records state.

During his court hearing, Zapel appeared separately from the other inmates and wore a suicide-prevention smock -- given to inmates who may try to harm themselves with standard jail clothing.

His court-appointed attorney, Jeff Sowder, asked the judge to order that the victims' bodies be preserved for examination by one of his experts. Veljacic said it is an issue for the judge assigned to the case to address.

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(c)2017 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)

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