Pasco man ruled competent to face murder trial

By Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldAugust 27, 2013 

A Pasco man accused of stabbing his roommate to death will face a second-degree murder charge after a judge ruled Tuesday that he is competent to stand trial.

Joseph W. Hart's trial date was scheduled for Oct. 23 during a hearing in Franklin County Superior Court.

Prosecutors allege Hart, 29, killed Rodger Allen Lincoln, 53, on March 6, 2012.

A recent evaluation by Randall Strandquist -- a psychologist who diagnosed Hart with paranoid schizophrenia and a personality disorder -- determined Hart was sane when he allegedly killed Lincoln, court documents said. Strandquist also determined Hart could tell right from wrong.

Hart had the "capacity to perceive the nature and quality of the alleged act with which he is charged," Strandquist wrote.

Hart's case had been on hold since April 2012, pending mental health evaluations to determine his sanity and if he is competent to stand trial.

Scott Johnson, Hart's attorney, asked for the sanity evaluation. After Hart was arrested, he spent almost five months in a state facility, where mental health experts worked to restore his competency.

Strandquist recently interviewed Hart on two separate occasions about the time leading up to Lincoln's death and the day he was killed.

Hart told Strandquist he was feeling depressed around the time Lincoln was killed because he had no job and quit training in martial arts, court documents said. Hart said he spent his time watching TV and would buy beer when he had money.

Hart was taking antipsychotic and antidepressant medications, as well as a sedative called Diazepam, court documents said. He was receiving psychiatric treatment through Lourdes Health Network.

Hart shared a trailer in the Sundance Mobile Home Park in Pasco with Lincoln and another roommate. Hart told Strandquist he woke up feeling "crappy" and depressed on the day Lincoln was killed, court documents said. He was playing a video game with the other roommate when he and Lincoln began to argue.

"He was threatening me," Hart told Strandquist. "I was kind of scared. He was bigger than me."

As the two were arguing, Hart recalled Lincoln telling him he would "go crazy and beat (his) head in," court documents said.

Hart went to his room for a while before he said he got a knife "to stab Rodger," court documents said. He told Strandquist he wanted to stab Lincoln because "that's how you settle things" and described that as a "prison mentality."

Hart's memory after getting the knife is "fragmented" and "minimal," Strandquist wrote.

Hart told Strandquist he didn't think he killed Lincoln, but "hurt him bad," court documents said. When police arrived, Hart said he had a pretty good idea why he was being arrested.

Hart was "very calm and collected" after the incident, according to police reports. When he was told he would be arrested for murder, he reportedly smiled and briefly laughed.

Several witnesses, including a father and son, saw the alleged attack take place, court documents said.

Strandquist believes Hart is a "substantial danger" to other people and will commit more crimes if he is released from custody, court documents said.

Hart could face life in prison if convicted, as it would be his third strike under Washington's "three strikes" law.

He was convicted of first-degree robbery in Spokane in 2004 and of assaulting another prisoner at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla in 2006, according to Herald archives.

In the 2006 assault, he used a shank made out of a melted-down plastic bottle to stab the inmate, court documents said.

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; Twitter; @Ty_richardsons

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