Pasco man's murder trial pushed to December

Tri-City HeraldOctober 8, 2013 

— The trial for a Pasco man accused of killing his housemate has been delayed until December while attorneys continue efforts to resolve the case.

Lawyer Scott Johnson told the court Tuesday that he’s talked with client Joseph W. Hart about the possibility of doing a judge-only trial given the “unusual” nature of the second-degree murder case.

That means Judge Carrie Runge — who’s been assigned to Hart’s case in Franklin County Superior Court — would weigh the evidence and render a decision, instead of a 12-member jury panel.

However, Johnson said he has been working with Prosecutor Shawn Sant and Deputy Prosecutor Dave Corkrum and is hopeful they can reach a resolution before the Dec. 9 trial.

Hart, 29, recently was found competent to proceed to trial for the March 2012 death of Rodger A. Lincoln.

Hart has paranoid schizophrenia and an antisocial personality disorder. Given his criminal history, he could be facing his third strike under Washington law with a life sentence.

Lincoln, 53, shared a home with Hart and another roommate in the Sundance Mobile Home Park on North Elm Avenue. The home is one of several owned by Lourdes Health Network and is used as housing for people with mental illnesses.

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

The victim was stabbed several times in the torso and head, including in the eye, by a hunting-type knife.

Johnson has questioned his client’s sanity at the time of the deadly fight.

The case was on hold for one year and four months while Hart underwent several mental health evaluations and spent time at Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake for competency restoration. That treatment included anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications and participation in educational groups designed to help Hart understand the court process.

Randall Strandquist, a psychologist at the state facility, determined that Hart was sane when he allegedly killed Lincoln and could tell right from wrong.

Johnson is asking Strandquist to reconsider that decision. He said Tuesday that he has provided all of his client’s previous medical records to Sant, who will forward them to Strandquist to take another look and see if they change his opinion.

Hart returns to court in November. He’s being held on $750,000 bail in the Franklin County jail, in addition to eight Benton County warrants for other matters.

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