PASCO -- Less than three weeks before a 31-year-old man was set to stand trial for allegedly killing his former girlfriend, his lawyers raised concerns Wednesday about his mental health.
Gregorio Luna Luna will be going to Eastern State Hospital for an evaluation of his "competency, sanity and mental state," as requested by attorneys Shelley Ajax and Karla Kane.
Luna Luna is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with first-degree murder for the May 24 death of Griselda Ocampo Meza. The21-year-old mother died in her Pasco apartment from a single stab wound in her chest.
The couple had a 5-year-old son together. Their relationship reportedly ended in early 2010.
Ajax told the court that "recent conversations with Mr. Luna revealed the need to do that evaluation," and later added there might be repressed memory issues. She also said the fact that Luna Luna has been "in the hole" in jail since his arrest may have something to do with his competency because she has seen other clients "deteriorate in those situations."
But special prosecutor Steve Lowe argued there has been no indication of a problem with Luna Luna in previous court hearings and said it's "highly unusual at this stage" to ask for the assessment, which indefinitely will delay a trial.
Lowe and his co-counsel, Deputy Prosecutor Anita Petra of Benton County, objected to the request and said Judge Robert Swisher should move forward with the case as planned.
Luna Luna's "actions within the jail show he has some knowledge of his condition. He is trying to get out of the jail," Lowe said. He was referring to how sending Luna Luna to the state facility in Medical Lake for the typical two-week evaluation temporarily would get him out of a solitary jail cell.
Luna Luna occasionally glanced at the Spanish-speaking interpreter, but otherwise looked down at the table through most of the hearing. The concerns about his mental health come one month after Ajax told the court that her client had agreed to consider a plea offer to resolve the case without a trial.
Swisher appeared frustrated Wednesday by the late request.
"Based on the representations of defense counsel, I don't think I have a choice but to order the evaluation," he said.
Lowe said the evaluation should be done in the jail with a state psychologist traveling to Pasco to meet with Luna Luna. A reasonable turnaround in that situation would be two to three weeks, he said, noting that if the court finds Luna Luna competent, they could proceed to trial near the original April 4 date.
Swisher agreed with prosecutors and initially signed the order for the jail. But under state law, he had to change it to Eastern State Hospital after the defense refused to agree to that.
Ajax and Kane said most recently they have "had a harder time" getting clients evaluated in a timely fashion in the jail as opposed to the state hospital. That setting is necessary and would be more beneficial for Luna Luna right now, they said.
Lowe was appointed to handle the cases of Luna Luna and brothers Jose and Ramon Garcia-Morales because of a conflict with new Prosecutor Shawn Sant, who once represented two of the defendants. Lowe's contract ends April 30.
This is the third Franklin County murder case to be tied up over defense claims of incompetency.
The lawyers for the Garcia-Morales brothers repeatedly have questioned if their clients understand the proceedings enough to go before juries.
Jose, 27, and Ramon, 30, are charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder for the December 2008 shooting of a Pasco couple.
Ramon Garcia-Morales, who has been nonresponsive for several months, was to have his fourth mental evaluation last week.
A competency hearing for Jose Garcia-Morales should be set within the next couple of weeks. He started having issues in jail brought on by severe depression, according to his attorneys.
A hearing to check the status of Luna Luna's transportation to Eastern State Hospital has been set for March 30.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org