ST. PAUL - Phanny Phay's family crowded into four rows inside a Ramsey County courtroom Tuesday to watch her longtime boyfriend make his first court appearance after being charged in her brutal murder.
Andre Antwan Duprey appeared to avoid eye contact with those gathered and instead looked straight ahead as he stood in an orange jumpsuit.
A public defender representing him asked that the presiding judge authorize a mental health evaluation for Duprey, who authorities say repeatedly chanted the words "demon, demon" shortly before killing Phay early Sunday morning.
He was charged Monday with second-degree murder in her death.
"Do you understand what's going on here," Ramsey County District Judge Tilsen asked Duprey during the proceeding.
"I do, your honor," he responded.
Those were the only words Duprey spoke during the hearing, which ended after the mental health evaluation was approved and his next court date was scheduled.
Duprey is being held on $1 million bail.
He was arrested after police discovered Phay's bloodied body with shotgun wounds and multiple sharp-force injuries inside a bedroom in the couple's apartment in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood.
Duprey was standing in the room's entryway holding a knife, charges say. A bloody double-barrel shotgun was reportedly found on the bed.
His aunt, who was staying with the couple at the time to attend a family reunion, told police she woke up around 2 a.m. Sunday to a commotion and saw Duprey pointing a shotgun toward Phay's head inside their bedroom, legal documents say.
He was chanting "demon, demon," as Phay, 28, lay on the bed crying, she said, according to charges.
Scared, the woman gathered her 7-year-old daughter and fled for help.
Phay's uncle, Narann Phay, was among those at Tuesday's hearing.
He wiped away tears as he described what it was like to look at the man accused of her violent death.
"It's just really hard to see his face. To accept what happened ... what he did to her," Narann Phay said. "Every time I think of my niece, I'm crying."
Several other relatives also left the courtroom crying after the hearing.
Relatives say Phay and Duprey had dated for nearly eight years and that they were not aware of past abuse in their relationship.
Her brother, Timothy Phay, said Phay wanted to become a doctor and was taking classes at the University of Minnesota.
That's where she met Duprey, who graduated from the U with a degree in political science, according to her brother.
"My niece was a very innocent person, very gentle person, very sweet," Narann Phay said. "She wanted to help people. ... He took her life away from her, just like he killed all of us."
He said Phay's family is from Cambodia and that the young woman was born in California before moving to Minnesota.
Duprey, an Army veteran, has no significant criminal record in Minnesota.
After his arrest Sunday, he reportedly told an investigator that he was very tired and had spent the previous evening having fun with his family and his "girl," the complaint said.
When an investigator asked him what had happened, he reportedly covered his face with his hands and said, "My girlfriend's not OK, is she?" charges say.
Police had contact with Duprey 24 hours earlier outside a Lowertown bar.
They found Duprey on his knees on the sidewalk, holding a Bible and looking upward, and talking about being ready to die, according to a police report. He appeared intoxicated and smelled strongly of alcohol, according to a police report.
Officers took him home after he appeared to calm down, the report said.
Duprey's next court appearance is scheduled for early February.