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Murder trial to proceed despite competency issues

PASCO -- Ramon Garcia-Morales still is not talking to his defense attorneys, sometimes refuses to bathe or get dressed and sits in court with his head hanging down, not making eye contact with anyone.

But, the 30-year-old Kennewick man accused of gunning down a Pasco couple two years ago is expected to be tried next week in Franklin County Superior Court on first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder charges.

Judge Vic VanderSchoor was told Tuesday that defense attorneys may opt to have him decide the case without using a jury.

Kevin Holt, one of two defense attorneys, once again expressed concerns about Garcia-Morales' competency, including how his client's unkept appearance might affect jurors' opinions.

Former Franklin County Prosecutor Steve Lowe, who has been appointed as special prosecutor in the case, said he's told jail staff not to use force if Garcia-Morales doesn't want to shave or bathe.

"That's his choice," Lowe said.

Holt has repeatedly said his client isn't competent, but VanderSchoor has ruled otherwise.

VanderSchoor previously said there's a difference between Garcia-Morales not being able to help in his own defense and choosing not to cooperate.

"I'm making decisions for my client," Holt said.

Garcia-Morales' trial is scheduled to start Wednesday, but attorneys said if a jury is needed, jurors won't be called until Thursday.

Pretrial hearings involving officers from Elmore County, Idaho, where Garcia-Morales and his brother were arrested, are expected to start Tuesday and continue into Wednesday.

The hearings were scheduled just before the trial to reduce the time and travel expenses of the out-of-state officers.

Also on Tuesday, Holt said he was able to review a piece of evidence that recently was discovered and determined it had "no evidentiary value" for his client's case but might benefit Garcia-Morales' brother, Jose.

A piece of clothing described as a shirtcoat or overcoat was taken from the brothers after their arrest and should have been turned over to Pasco detectives, but it was discovered last month in a cubicle by a new sheriff's detective in Elmore County.

Ramon and Jose Garcia-Morales were arrested in Mountain Home, which is east of Boise, 16 hours after they allegedly shot Alfredo Garcia and his wife, Maria Ramirez de Garcia at home on Dec. 10, 2008.

Court documents say Garcia, 42, was responsible for delegating work opportunities to workers, and the Garcia-Morales brothers believed he had deprived them of a job.

They blamed him for Ramon's financial problems.

Ramon and Jose allegedly were both carrying guns when they went to the Garcia home.

At some point, Ramon pulled out his 9 mm and fired until it was empty, then grabbed Jose's .45-caliber pistol and continued shooting, documents claim.

Three daughters were home. They pleaded for their lives and were saved when the suspects fled, fearing police were coming.

Jose Garcia-Morales' case is pending a competency hearing that is set for March 3.

Lowe also has been appointed to prosecute Jose's case.

Jose Garcia-Morales had been defended by Shawn Sant, who now is the Franklin County prosecutor.

Because of the possible conflict, Sant and his office cannot be involved in the prosecution.

Ramon Garcia-Morales' trial is expected to last up to two weeks.

* Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com

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