A 26-year-old woman accused of killing the 92-year-old woman who lived with her in Kensington was found competent on Tuesday to stand trial.

Julia Birch was charged with killing Nancy Frankel, a noted area sculptor, in a home on Spruell Drive on July 28, according to Montgomery County police. Police have said Birch told detectives that she suffocated Frankel to death and that a medical examiner ruled asphyxiation to be the cause of death.

Birch is charged with first-degree murder.

Police have said little about the circumstances leading up to Frankel’s death, although relatives of Frankel said the two had become friends and that Birch was paying rent to live at Frankel’s home.

Birch is being held without bond at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, a maximum-security state facility in Howard County. Court records indicate that reports from the Maryland Department of Health were filed on Aug. 18 and Feb. 10 in the case.

During a virtual competency hearing in Montgomery County District Court on Tuesday, Birch answered a series of questions from Judge Aileen Oliver about whether she understood the crime she had been charged with, if she could formulate a defense, and plea options available to her.

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Oliver said that based on her review of a recent doctor’s report, as well as Birch’s answers during the hearing, she found Birch to be “competent to stand trial beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Oliver said Birch is to remain held without bond at Perkins until her next court appearance, which is a preliminary hearing on March 11.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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