Murder trial delayed for Pasco man

Tri-City HeraldDecember 4, 2013 

Joseph Hart

The trial for a Pasco man accused of fatally stabbing his housemate has been pushed back a month.

The delay in Joseph W. Hart’s case was requested Wednesday by prosecutors.

The second-degree murder trial in Franklin County Superior Court had been set to start Monday. Now it will go Jan. 6.

Judge Carrie Runge approved the delay, along with a new charge against Hart of second-degree assault.

Hart, 29, waived his right to have a 12-member jury hear the case, so Runge will weigh evidence presented and return the verdicts. The trial is expected to last four days.

The defense has claimed Hart was insane when he killed Rodger A. Lincoln in March 2012. The murder charge includes a domestic violence allegation since the men were roommates.

Prosecutor Shawn Sant said the state needs the additional four weeks because Hart’s blood — drawn after his arrest — has yet to be forwarded to the toxicology section of the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab.

The lab reportedly “is in final stages of peer and administrative review” for DNA testing, and only once that is complete is the blood sample forwarded for further testing.

Prosecutors feel it is important to have the toxicology report available to both state and defense experts in reaching an opinion on Hart’s sanity, Sant said. He expects that test to be done by the new trial date.

Hart and Lincoln shared a house with 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.

Hart is a paranoid schizophrenic with an antisocial personality disorder, but a state psychologist has determined that he was sane and knew it was wrong when he allegedly stabbed Lincoln.

The 53-year-old Lincoln died of multiple stab wounds from a hunting-type knife to his torso and head, the 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 faces a possible life sentence in state prison under Washington’s “three strikes” law if he is convicted of the murder. 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.

If lawyer Scott Johnson is able to prove that his client should be found “not guilty by reason of insanity,” Hart would be committed indefinitely to a state psychiatrist facility.

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