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Judge finds man accused of Colo. Planned Parenthood shooting mentally incompetent for trial

A Colorado judge on Wednesday found that the man accused of killing three and injuring nine others in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado last year is not mentally competent to stand trial, the New York Times reports (Healy, New York Times, 5/11).

The judge will review the defendant's status in 90 days (Coffman/Gorman, Reuters, 5/11).

Shooting incident details

The suspect, Robert Dear, allegedly opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in late November 2015. Since surrendering, Dear has been held without bond.

One police officer and two civilians were killed during the assault. An additional five police officers and four civilians were injured.

Dear has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and first-degree assault.

Case background

In late December 2015, Judge Gilbert Martinez ordered a mental competency examination after Dear said he wanted to represent himself and that he did not trust his public defender. The purpose of the evaluation was to determine whether Dear understands the case and is mentally able to waive his right to an attorney and represent himself.

Last month, Martinez heard testimony from two forensic psychologists, both of whom said Dear suffered from delusions and should be considered incompetent. Both psychologists outlined details about Dear's mental health status and testified that Dear's mental issues are severe enough to impair his functioning. They noted that Dear's inability to rationally comprehend the lawsuit and his distrust of his attorneys is cause to deem him mentally incompetent to stand trial.

According to detectives who interviewed Dear following the shooting, Dear did not want to accept a mental illness defense because he thought it would undermine his intended message, which he said was to protest abortion rights (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/29).

Judge's ruling

In Wednesday's order, Martinez wrote that Dear's "perceptions and understanding are not rational and are not grounded in reality."

Martinez cited an assessment that determined Dear was "currently incompetent to proceed" because he has "a mental disability or developmental disability" that limits his ability to understand the trial rationally and consult with his lawyers (Berman, "Post Nation," Washington Post, 5/11). Martinez said although Dear could comprehend the facts of the case, his delusions and paranoia prevent him from meaningfully assisting in his defense (Reuters, 5/11).

According to the Times, Martinez's ruling was based mainly on the findings of two state psychologists (New York Times, 5/11). In addition, Martinez referenced police testimony regarding delusional beliefs expressed by Dear.

Next steps

Under Martinez's order, Dear will be committed to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo "for treatment directed toward restoring competency" ("Post Nation," Washington Post, 5/11). Defendants meet the legal standard for competency if they understand the court proceedings and can assist in their defense (New York Times, 5/11).

According to the AP/Sacramento Bee, Dear's treatment will likely entail psychotropic medication, therapy for his mental illness and education about the charges filed against him. Steven Pitt, a forensic psychiatrist, said the vast majority of defendants who are initially found incompetent are eventually restored to competency and stand trial (AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/11).

Martinez's order calls for a status update on Dear in early August. The case will be reviewed Aug. 11 ("Post Nation," Washington Post, 5/11).

Possibility for mental health defense

Dear has not yet entered a formal plea. Prosecutors have not announced whether they will seek the death penalty (Reuters, 5/11).

However, Pitt said, "In a case of this magnitude when a defendant is initially found incompetent to stand trial and is then restored to competency, there is a strong possibility that there will be a mental health defense." He noted, "It is an absolute certainty that the defendant's mental health history will be front and center during the penalty phase" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 5/11).