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Accused UC Davis stabber spiraled from athlete, honor student

The testimony in Carlos Reales Dominguez’s competency trial raised one enormous question: Why did no one intervene as the young man spiraled from high school honor student to accused murderer?

During his freshman year at UC Davis, he confided in friends that he was hearing voices. A few months after starting his sophomore year, he told his then-girlfriend “the devil was talking to him in his dreams.” Over that same academic year, a roommate spotted him several times moving his mouth, but with no words coming out.

Witness after witness testified during the proceeding, which would decide whether Dominguez was competent to stand trial for the late April murders of David Henry Breaux, known around town as the “Compassion Guy,” and Karim Abou Najm, a UC Davis student set to graduate that spring. Dominguez is also charged with the attempted murder of Kimberlee Guillory.

A makeshift memorial to UC Davis graduating senior Karim Abou Najm at the site of his fatal April 29 stabbing in Davis’ Sycamore Park.

(Paul Kitagaki Jr. / Sacramento Bee)

A slight young man sits in court wearing a green protective vest, his unkempt hair covering most of his face

Friends had noticed Carlos Dominguez, in court last month, behaving strangely, losing weight and increasingly neglecting his hygiene.

(Kevin Neri / Sacramento Bee Pool Photo via Associated Press)

Throughout the July competency trial, the 20-year-old Dominguez sat wraithlike, pale, his unwashed hair a curtain in front of his eyes. He wore a dark-green safety smock to keep him from killing himself.

“I would say that Mr. Dominguez is a textbook example of schizophrenia,” testified Juliana Rohrer, a psychologist appointed by the court to determine whether Dominguez was mentally competent.

Although Rohrer had previously found that Dominguez was not competent to stand trial, prosecutors challenged that conclusion — landing the case before a jury in Yolo County Superior Court.

“Not every individual who has schizophrenia is incompetent, correct?” Yolo County Deputy Dist. Atty. Matt De Moura asked Rohrer during cross-examination.

“That is correct,” Rohrer said.

The trial painted a picture of Dominguez’s increasingly difficult life in the lead up to the brutal murders that shook this bucolic college town. As testimony continued day after day, it became abundantly clear that Dominguez was suffering the ravages of mental illness.

But it fell to the jury of four men and eight women to decide whether the troubled young man seated before them, lawyer at his side, was still capable of helping in his own defense — whether he was fit to stand trial for the bloody attacks that took two lives and changed a third.


Caley Gallardo met Dominguez at UC Davis. They were both just starting their freshman year in 2020 and had connected through a mutual friend. They became an official couple the following January, she testified.

At the time, Dominguez was still fit from his days playing high school football. He kept his hair cut short. Although he was “on the shy side,” more quiet and reserved, the couple bonded over their focus on a future filled with accomplishment and generosity and their motivation toward schooling, Gallardo testified.

Dominguez, a biological sciences major, dreamed of one day becoming a doctor. In a blog post that has since been taken down, he spoke about wanting to give back to the community by opening a sports medicine clinic.

A few people outside a large white building near a white sculpture of an upside-down head

The Carlos Dominguez who entered UC Davis in 2020 bore little resemblance to the young man accused this year of a series of stabbings that rocked the bucolic college town of Davis, Calif.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Like Gallardo, Dominguez was family-oriented, she testified. Growing up in Oakland, he cared for his younger brother and sister while his parents worked.

“He had always felt very close and protective of his younger siblings,” Gallardo testified.

Dominguez settled into university life, attending parties, going to class, making friends. But the cracks were already starting to show. At one party, he asked a friend, Marc Capito, if Capito had “ever heard voices before.”

“I told him no, and I asked him if he has,” the 23-year-old testified. “He said yes.”

Dominguez also told another friend, Phillip Han, that he was hearing voices.

“He asked me if I heard anything in my head,” Han testified. He said at one point he told Dominguez that going to therapy would be a good idea. But Dominguez “just kind of brushed it off.”

Gallardo testified that on several occasions she and Dominguez would walk by other people, and he would tell her they were talking about him, even though they hadn’t said a word.

In his sophomore year, Dominguez moved out of the dorms and into a three-bedroom apartment with three other students. That’s when he began to socially withdraw, Gallardo recalled on the stand. He preferred to stay secluded with her, and they spent most of their time together alone in his room.

That same academic year, Dominguez confided something that scared her.

“He had said that the devil was talking to him in his dreams,” Gallardo said. He told her that multiple times, she testified, but never told her what the devil said.

“I really didn’t know how to think at all … at the time I was already in a relationship with him, and I kind of just thought, ‘Everyone has their things,’” she said.

“Did it ever occur to you that he might have a mental illness?” Dan Hutchinson, Dominguez’s public defender asked.

“Yes,” Gallardo testified. She said she talked to him about it, but he did not seem receptive to getting help. He thought he was OK, she said.

Over the course of that academic year, Dominguez began skipping meals and losing weight. In early 2022, his hygiene worsened. He and Gallardo broke up that spring.

Nathan Riego De Dios, one of Dominguez’s former roommates, recalled him getting “really skinny.” At one point, Riego De Dios spotted Dominguez in the kitchen, moving his mouth as if speaking, but with no words coming out. What he saw, he testified, did not look normal.

“I was kind of just scared,” the 21-year-old said. As Riego De Dios grew busier with classes and work, he and Dominguez barely spoke. In court, he admitted that the behavior he saw in the kitchen also played a role in his growing distance from his troubled friend.

Riego De Dios stopped thinking of Dominguez as a close friend and started considering him just a roommate, he testified. After Riego De Dios moved out in August 2022, he and Dominguez never spoke again.

In his junior year, Dominguez seemed to spiral further. By that point, he’d moved into a house on Hawthorn Lane, taking over a friend’s room and sharing the place with three other young men.

He spent most of his time in his room and smoked weed on a regular basis, his former roommates testified. During house meetings, he would stare off in the distance blankly. His roommates had to call his name over and over before he’d snap back into the conversation, Capito testified.

Dominguez’s co-workers at Jack in the Box, where he worked the late-night shift, had grown accustomed to seeing the the young man staring off into space. Gladis Verdin, 19, testified that Dominguez would often stare at a wall for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, without moving.

“I found it weird … but we were used to it,” Verdin said.

Gallardo visited Dominguez’s home that fall. He was the “worst I’d ever seen him at before,” she testified. His hair had grown out and hung in his eyes. He was even skinnier and had a strong body odor.

His cat, Ember, had grown skinny too. Capito began noticing rips in bags of food, as if the cat was desperately trying to get something to eat. Other times, Capito said, he saw Ember eating food left on the counter. Capito and his girlfriend began feeding the cat themselves.

By the end of the fall quarter, Dominguez had a B+, an F, a B- and a withdrawal on his transcripts. Sometime in the winter, he stopped working.

Right before Christmas break, one of Dominguez’s roommates, Christian Ortega, returned from a trip and heard Dominguez shouting in his bedroom. The next day, Ortega testified, he spotted bent metal poles – possibly from a bed frame – and a small hole in the wall in Dominguez’s room.

The last time Gallardo saw Dominguez was in December, she testified, when he told her he had a Christmas gift for her. It was a shoe box with a demonic drawing — a face with horns and fangs — filled with lingerie and a long sleeved shirt with a Playboy bunny logo.

Dominguez reached out to Gallardo a couple more times, but they never spent time together again.


After winter break, in 2023, Dominguez appeared to worsen.

Ortega noticed he had begun to walk more stiffly, moving, he later told law enforcement investigators, like a “zombie.”

“He’d walk, head straight, kind of slow, and just hands by his sides, super stiff,” Ortega testified.

The roommates met — without Dominguez — and talked about the young man’s deteriorating mental health. They discussed “how we should approach maybe getting Carlos some help,” Capito said.

“We were just worried, because I think at that point he wouldn’t acknowledge us anymore,” Ortega testified.

They agreed, Ortega said, that one of the guys would talk to Dominguez. But nothing was set in stone after the meeting, Capito testified, and they “were still trying to get angles on how to approach it.”

Dominguez’s family also appeared to worry about him. On Feb. 6, his siblings asked Gallardo if she had heard from him. His family members did not testify during the trial. His parents did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

By the end of winter quarter, Dominguez had three Fs and two withdrawals. On April 25, he was separated from the university for academic reasons, according to school officials.

People stand on a sidewalk looking at flowers and other tributes on a free-form bench that reads "Compassion" and "Listening"

People take in memorial tributes to stabbing victim David Henry Breaux at the Compassion Corner Earthbench that he helped create in Davis.

(Paul Kitagaki Jr. / Sacramento Bee via Associated Press)

Breaux’s body was found — stabbed to death — on April 27 on the bench where he often slept. The 50-year-old was known around town for his gentle proselytizing about the need for compassion.

Two nights later, according to police accounts, Dominguez fatally stabbed UC Davis student Najm, 20, as he biked home from a university event where he had received a research award.

Dominguez then allegedly attacked a homeless woman in her 60s on May 1 as she slept in a tent near railroad tracks not far from downtown. She was hospitalized and survived the stabbing.

On May 3, Sidney Slesicki, who once lived in the house on Hawthorn Lane, pulled into the driveway, planning to study there. He spotted Dominguez leaving the house and tried to warn him about the anonymous, knife-wielding attacker terrorizing the college town.

“Hey, be careful out there — there was another stabbing,” Slesicki recalled telling him. “I don’t think you should be walking around.”

Dominguez didn’t acknowledge Slesicki. His vision was locked on dead space, Slesicki testified. Then Dominguez walked away, down the middle of the street.

The young man was later spotted at a park near where Najm had been killed. He was dressed in dark clothing — black sweatshirt and black track pants with a white stripe — that matched the description provided by witnesses of the assailant in the third knife attack.

Police detained Dominguez. Inside his backpack, they found a large hunting-style knife.


Law enforcement officers escorting a disheveled young man

Stabbing suspect Carlos Dominguez pleaded not guilty in Yolo County Superior Court at his arraignment in May. The larger question before the court would be whether he was mentally competent to stand trial.

(Fred Gladdis / Davis Enterprise Pool Photo via Associated Press)

Dominguez has been held at the Yolo County jail since his May arrest. He is housed in a cell within the infirmary, where he is on suicide watch. He has been issued a safety smock and a safety blanket, items that keep him clothed and warm but cannot be crafted into a noose. He receives his food in a styrofoam tray with no utensils.

He has not expressed a desire to harm himself, but “he has shown an inability to care for himself,” Amy Gutierrez, a mental health clinician who saw Dominguez at the jail, testified.

Dominguez eats intermittently, telling staff he has no appetite. At one point, his weight dropped to 108 pounds. He did not care for his basic hygiene, declining to shower or brush his teeth, staff testified.

Although he has denied hearing voices and seeing things, Rohrer, the court-appointed psychologist, testified that a common symptom for those with schizophrenia is lack of insight or awareness about one’s own illness. She pointed out that Dominguez stays as still as a statue, that he speaks in a monotone and barely eats.

“In Mr. Dominguez’s case, there’s a mountain of evidence showing that he has symptoms that are affecting his ability to function and that those symptoms are connected to the diagnosis of schizophrenia,” Rohrer testified.

At times in the Yolo County jail, Dominguez acted as though he was still a student at UC Davis, Gutierrez testified. He told staff he needed to attend a Zoom visit with his counselor to register for classes for the next quarter. He told Rohrer that he’d done badly his junior year but that “he can still pick it up,” she testified.

Brandi Halsted, a mental health clinician who met with Dominguez at the jail, testified that he said he was disappointed in himself. She read from notes she’d taken that day: “Inmate states he is trying to focus on moving forward.”

Two days later, Dominguez talked to Halsted about the future, telling her that he wants to have a home, wife and children and live in the Bay Area.

Dale Watson, a forensic neuropsychologist hired by the defense, confirmed that the winter quarter was a time when Dominguez appeared to experience the most obvious symptoms of schizophrenia.

He confirmed Dominguez “is most likely schizophrenic” and said “this is a first break of schizophrenia.”

The jury heard testimony about Dominguez’s mental state over five grueling days. But before they could render a decision, the prosecutors changed their stance.

“We would agree that Mr. Dominguez is no longer competent to stand trial,” De Moura said in court on Aug. 3.

“The court’s willing to accept that stipulation and agrees wholeheartedly,” Yolo County Superior Court Judge Samuel McAdam said. “I sat through the trial and watched it, and I agree with the defense position all along here and with the prosecution’s position today that Carlos Dominguez does not have the competency to stand trial.”

Dominguez will be sent to a state hospital when a bed becomes available. Throughout his incarceration, he has declined to take psychotropic drugs, but McAdam recently ordered involuntary medication.

If Dominguez eventually becomes competent, he could someday face trial in the deaths of Breaux and Najm and the attack on Guillory.

“I just wish the best for Mr. Dominguez,” McAdam said as the trial ended, “so that we can provide justice in this courtroom for the victims and our community.”

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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