Pasco slaying suspect's sanity in question

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 6, 2013 

PASCO -- A 28-year-old man charged with killing his Pasco housemate no longer is hearing voices and is thinking clearly enough to help in his defense, but his sanity at the time of the deadly fight in March remains undetermined.

Joseph William Hart is back in the Franklin County jail after spending almost five months in a state facility, where mental health experts worked to restore his competency.

A report was filed recently in Franklin County Superior Court saying Hart has "capacity to understand court proceedings and productively participate in his own defense," according to psychologist Randall Strandquist at Eastern State Hospital.

But as of Friday, the court had yet to receive a separate report ordered in late November on Hart's sanity evaluation at the time of the crime.

Scott Johnson, Hart's attorney, requested the additional assessment because of concerns about his client.

Judge Carrie Runge plans a status hearing on the case on Tuesday. The case has been on hold since April.

Hart has pleaded innocent to one count of second-degree murder for the March 6 death of Rodger Allen Lincoln. The charge includes a domestic violence allegation since the men were roommates.

The two men lived at the Sundance Mobile Home Park in a home that is owned by Lourdes Health Network. It is used as housing for people with mental illness.

Lincoln, 53, died of multiple stab wounds from a hunting-type knife to his head and torso, an autopsy showed.

Neighbors reported seeing the men struggling in their front yard, and watched Hart strike Lincoln repeatedly around the head, Pasco police said.

Hart could be facing his third strike under Washington's "three strikes" law and life in prison if convicted.

He got his first strike in 2004 for a first-degree robbery in Spokane, and his second strike in 2006 when he assaulted a fellow prisoner at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

Hart is a schizophrenic with an antisocial personality disorder, and has abused drugs including alcohol, marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin and LSD, Strandquist wrote in his report.

He was first admitted to the Medical Lake facility on Aug. 1 for a 15-day observation and was found not competent to stand trial.

A judge then ordered him held for a 90-day restoration period, during which Hart was treated with anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medications, and participated in educational groups designed to help him understand the court process.

Strandquist said he interviewed Hart in mid-November and determined that his mental state had improved so he could proceed to trial.

Following that process, Hart said that "he came to the realization he needed medications but did not understand the extent of what was wrong with him," the report said.

Hart told Strandquist that he no longer hears voices, his thinking has cleared and his sleep, appetite and concentration abilities all have improved. He denied any paranoid symptoms or delusions, but admitted that he continues to feel some anxiety and sometimes has a panic attack, usually triggered by sudden, loud noises, the report said.

"Mr. Hart also said that he is nervous about his current legal situation and (is) hopeful that the more he discusses the case with his attorney, the less anxious he will feel," Strandquist wrote.

The psychologist said he consulted with Hart's treating psychiatrist and the two agreed that Hart's psychotic symptoms have significantly decreased since he first entered the state facility in August.

He concluded that since Hart is psychologically stable, Hart does not need further mental health reviews and can help Johnson in his own defense.

The report does not address if Hart lacked the ability to understand the nature of the crime or knew right from wrong in March when Lincoln was stabbed. Johnson asked for the sanity evaluation more than eight months into the case.

If Eastern State Hospital staff determines that Hart was not sane when he allegedly killed Lincoln, he could be acquitted by reason of insanity and spend the rest of his life in the psychiatric facility.

Hart is being held on $750,000 bail for the murder charge. He also has two Benton County warrants with $5,000 bail each.

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