PASCO — A Pasco murder suspect is returning to a state hospital after a judge ruled Monday that the unkempt and unresponsive man is unable to help his lawyers prepare for trial in his almost 2 1/2-year-old case.
Superior Court Judge Carrie Runge, in a written decision sent to the prosecutors and defense lawyers for Jose Garcia-Morales, said she believes another stay at Eastern State Hospital is appropriate.
"While I recognize that depression does not equal incompetence and that someone who chooses to be uncooperative and unwilling to speak is also not incompetent, in this case, I find that the evidence preponderates in favor of the defendant and a finding of incompetency to stand trial, at this point in time," Runge wrote.
It comes just over two weeks after conflicting testimony was presented in the Franklin County Superior Court case.
Dr. William Grant, a state psychiatrist at the Medical Lake facility, said the 27-year-old man is "stonewalling" his attorneys and the court because he doesn't want to face the consequences of a murder trial.
He acknowledged that Garcia-Morales is dealing with "situational depression" from being locked up since December 2008 and has stopped talking to people and won't get out of bed or bathe himself.
But Grant said that once the defendant is moved to the hospital for a mental evaluation, his behavior changes overnight, he plays games with other inmates and even has been caught roughhousing and intimidating others.
However, a Richland psychologist hired by the defense described Garcia-Morales as a "psychotic individual" whose behavior isn't that of a rational person. Philip Barnard said Garcia-Morales is severely depressed and mentally incompetent, and there is no reason for him to fake his symptoms.
Garcia-Morales is charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.
He is accused of shooting Alfredo Garcia and Maria Ramirez de Garcia in the couple's Pasco home on Dec. 10, 2008.
Garcia, a father of four, died from his gunshot wounds. His wife was critically injured and now uses a wheelchair to get around.
Prosecutors allege Garcia-Morales went with his older brother to confront Garcia, who they believed had deprived the men of a job in the fields.
Jose and Ramon Garcia-Morales were arrested the next day in Mountain Home, Idaho.
Ramon, 31, faces similar charges. His case also has been on hold while he had a fourth mental evaluation. A status hearing is set today.
Special prosecutor Steve Lowe and defense lawyer Shelley Ajax declined to comment Monday on the ruling in Jose Garcia-Morales' case.
Lowe was appointed to handle the case because Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant used to represent Garcia-Morales before winning the election. Benton County Deputy Prosecutor Amy Harris is helping Lowe.
Moe Spencer joined Ajax on the case after Sant stepped down. He filed a declaration for the court earlier this month saying that from day one Garcia-Morales "has never spoken to me. Not one word."
The defendant never looks at his lawyer in the face and almost is always in a wheelchair, whether during jail visits or in court, Spencer wrote. He said it is "truly disturbing" that his client will remain in the same clothes for weeks, urinate and defecate on himself or his cell floor and "live in that squalor until it becomes noticed."
In her ruling, Runge said a determination of competency is based not only on the psychiatric reports but also the defendant's personal and family history, past behavior, medical history and observations by both the judge and the attorneys of his appearance, demeanor and conduct.
She wrote that Garcia-Morales "appears disheveled, unkept, has lost weight, appears non-responsive/non-communicative, is often brought into court in a wheelchair, his eyes are closed and his head is generally bowed downward."
With Runge's new order, when Jose Garcia-Morales will go to trial all depends on his competency restoration.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org