A 17-year-old Pasco teen accused of shooting a rival gang member in the chest earlier this year may have a low IQ but that doesn't mean he can't assist in his defense, a judge ruled.
After a daylong hearing Monday in Benton County Superior Court, Judge Vic VanderSchoor determined Robert Ursua is legally competent to stand trial.
"The defendant has shown, by all the facts given to this court, that he has the basic understanding of the proceedings and can assist in his defense," VanderSchoor said.
Ursua is charged as an adult with first-degree assault with a deadly weapon for the March 28 shooting in an altercation between rival gangs.
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Police allege Ursua was with two other fellow gang members when they were chased down a Kennewick alley by four rival gang members in a car. Police said the two groups began fighting, and at some point Ursua pulled out a gun and fired it, shooting Adrian Pimental, 19, in the chest.
Ursua is expected back in court Dec. 8 to set trial dates.
Defense attorney Sam Swanberg argued his client is not competent to stand trial. Swanberg said he had "grave concerns right from the get-go" about his client's competency and said reports and evaluations show he has had mental or learning disabilities all his life.
Swanberg noted a juvenile court case against his client was dismissed because the judge ruled Ursua was incompetent. And he had a psychologist who evaluated Ursua in the Benton County jail say Ursua doesn't have a rational understanding of what's happening.
Mark Mays said his evaluation of Ursua showed the teen's IQ in the mildly mentally retarded range.
"I would ask the court to take the higher road in this and to find that more than a pulse and breath is required to find somebody competent," Swanberg said. "You don't have to be a genius, you don't even have to be average, but you certainly have to be better than the bottom 21/2 percent of the population."
Prosecutor Andy Miller and Deputy Prosecutor Emily Sullivan countered with their own expert witness, a forensic psychologist who works at Eastern State Hospital who evaluated Ursua as part of his private practice and who said Ursua was competent to stand trial.
Nathan Henry said he diagnosed Ursua in the borderline intellectually functioning range, but also said he felt Ursua was malingering, or feigning cognitive impairment.
Miller also pointed out case law in three separate cases where defendants who were mildly retarded with a lower IQ than Ursua were found competent to stand trial. And he said higher courts, including the state Supreme Court, upheld those decisions.
Judge VanderSchoor said he agreed with Henry's opinion that Ursua was feigning memory impairment.
w Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org