PASCO — One of two brothers accused of gunning down a Pasco couple two years ago silently sat in court Tuesday, his head down and not responding to his own attorney as she tried to talk to him.
But, when Jose Garcia-Morales was at Eastern State Hospital for a second mental evaluation, the 27-year-old Pasco man was "eating well, laughing, smiling, jovial and joking with other Hispanic patients," said the state psychiatrist who examined him.
He was sent to the state mental hospital in July after attorneys expressed concerns about his mental health. He previously was found competent there, but was suspected of having psychotic issues brought on by severe depression while locked up in the Franklin County jail.
Garcia-Morales is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in the December 2008 shooting of Alfredo Garcia and Maria Ramirez de Garcia.
Alfredo Garcia, 42, died. His wife was critically injured and must use a wheelchair.
Garcia-Morales and his older brother, Ramon Garcia-Morales, 30, are accused of going to the couple's Manzanita Lane home to confront Garcia out of "financial desperation" because he felt shut out of field work and was owed money.
Jose Garcia-Morales tentatively is due back in court Jan. 4 so a special prosecutor can be appointed in his case. He previously was represented by Shawn Sant, who was elected as the county's new prosecutor.
Sant won't be able to handle either prosecution because of his conflict of interest, and departing Prosecutor Steve Lowe is awaiting appointment to be the special prosecutor.
Lowe told Judge Carrie Runge that he's reached a financial agreement to handle three murder cases after he leaves office.
But, Lowe said, he can't be appointed until after Jan. 1, and he's awaiting confirmation Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller will help on the cases.
Lowe said Miller has indicated he'll assign a deputy prosecutor to assist as co-counsel and will provide Lowe with office space.
Defense attorney Shelly Ajax also informed the court that Moe Spencer will be replacing Sant as co-counsel.
Ramon Garcia-Morales faces a Jan. 5 trial on the same charges as his brother, but it likely will be delayed. He has been found competent to stand trial, but his attorneys say he doesn't talk to them and can't help prepare a case.
The third case Lowe is expected to stay on to prosecute is the first-degree murder case of Gregorio Luna Luna, 31, who's accused of fatally stabbing his son's mother, Griselda Ocampo Meza, on May 24.
Sant also was one of Luna Luna's two defense attorneys.
Lowe told Judge Robert Swisher that he also can't be appointed to handle Luna Luna's case until after Jan. 1.
Swisher tentatively set a Jan. 4 hearing to make the appointment and set a new trial date.
A competency hearing for Jose Garcia-Morales also is expected to be set sometime in January.
According to a report from Dr. William Grant, a forensic psychiatrist at Eastern State Hospital, Garcia-Morales is competent to stand trial and does not suffer from serious depression.
In October 2009, Garcia-Morales initially was found incompetent to stand trial, but his competency was restored by treatment with antidepressant and antipsychotic medication, and he was sent back to the jail in February 2010.
Garcia-Morales was sent back last summer for a second evaluation. When he arrived July 21, he said the jail staff was angry or rude and as a result, he eventually refused to take his medications, the report said.
He reported continued anger at the slow pace of his case and was "irritable and appeared close to tears at times," documents said.
During his stay, Garcia-Morales was described as "very social with Spanish-speaking peers." He watched TV, joked with other Hispanic patients, never appeared confused, was pleasant and cooperative with staff and drew artwork.
In mid-August and early September, nursing staff expressed concerns Garcia-Morales and his roommate were intimidating other patients and becoming "more manipulative at attempts to get more food, manipulate wins in bingo and ... cheating."
Grant noted that assertive behavior is inconsistent with severe depression.
Garcia-Morales also frequently avoided competency restoration classes and sometimes hid in the bathroom when patients were called to attend, Grant wrote. His performance also varied on competency tests -- on Aug. 16 he got all the answers wrong, but two days later got eight out of nine correct and got them all right the following day, Grant wrote.
His answers continued to vary, and on Sept. 16 he only got two of eight correct and laughed as he gave the wrong answers, the report said. When a therapist confronted him about not trying to answer correctly, he left the room and gave the therapist a "very dirty look," the report said.
Back at the jail in November, jail staff reported Garcia-Morales is protective of his brother, who is hooked up to an IV because of inadequate fluid intake, but will not let other inmates help him.
He also doesn't talk to his attorneys, but plays cards with other inmates. He doesn't eat much jail food but makes regular purchases at the commissary of snack foods, soap and colored pencils for drawing, the report said.
When interviewed Nov. 10 by Philip Barnard, a psychologist retained by the defense, Garcia-Morales was sullen and failed to respond to questions from either Grant or Barnard.
Grant concluded any failure by Garcia-Morales to cooperate with his attorney is "volitional rather than the product of a mental disease of defect. The fact that a defendant may be uncooperative does not render him incompetent to stand trial."
Grant said Garcia-Morales can understand court proceedings and assist in his own defense, "should he choose to do so." He also indicated Garcia-Morales may be more amenable to a Hispanic defense attorney.
w Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org