ELKINS - An elderly Gilman man accused of fatally shooting his wife in early 2012 was deemed criminally responsible to stand trial - and a January trial date was set - in Randolph County Circuit Court Tuesday.
Theodore Yeager Newlon, 84, allegedly shot and killed his 68-year-old wife, Dora Newlon, in their home near Gilman in February 2012. Newlon was indicted in June 2012 on one felony count of murder and one count of wanton endangerment.
Newlon was found not competent to stand trial during a hearing in late 2012, but was re-evaluated in mid-2013 and found to be competent in an April hearing.
Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker said Tuesday he believed a trial date needed to be set since Newlon was found competent on April 25.
Parker added that at the last hearing, held on Aug. 7, officials were waiting on the results of criminal responsibility evaluations from three different experts
"We have since received those reports," Parker said.
James Hawkins and Kourtney Ryan, defense attorneys for Newlon, said they believed it was premature to schedule trial dates at this time.
"It is our position that it is premature at this point in time to schedule the matter for trial. It is our position that the court should, as a matter of law, make a ruling on the issue of criminal responsibility," Hawkins said. "It is our position, at this point in time, that the court can, pursuant to Chapter 27, make the finding, as a matter of law, that he is not criminally responsible and the matter should not go forward. He should be disposed of under Chapter 27."
Hawkins went on to say that, based on the criminal responsibility evaluation done by psychologist Dr. Robert J. Rush, there was a continuing question of competency.
"Based on his testing and based on his recent mental status evaluation, my reading of (Rush's) report, before he gets onto the issue of criminal responsibility is, in a nutshell, that 'according to this examiner the presentation is inconsistent with competency and contrary to his best interest,'" Hawkins said. "So that tells me that there is clearly a question as to whether this man remains competent at this point in time."
Hawkins added that based on his own observation, during time spent with Newlon, he was unable to help him in forming a defense.
"It's my observation as a member of the bar and an officer of this court, that at this point, my client is unable to adequately assist me in going forward with a trial, so I would ask that these evaluations, and I think it's clear based on everything that is available to the court, that this man is not competent at this point in time, and we are not prepared to go forward with a trial," Hawkins said.
Senior Status Judge Thomas Steptoe then confirmed with Hawkins how the case had come to this point through previous evaluations.
"Is it my understanding that competency was raised early on in these proceedings and that an evaluation was done pursuant to the statute and the presiding judge, upon receiving those reports, determined he was not competent to stand trial at that time... There was a possibility that he might become competent later and had him remanded to a mental hospital to pursue that. Is that where we're at?" Steptoe asked.
"That has occurred," Hawkins answered.
Steptoe then asked if the defense wanted him to make a new judgement on Newlon's competence.
Hawkins replied that competency is a "fluid" thing and that just because Newlon was found to be competent in April did not mean that he would necessarily remain competent.
"Think about it logically, you order a restoration, OK, he's found not to be competent, you order the restoration, he's later found to be competent. Does that presume from that day forward until the end of time that he remains competent? No," Hawkins said. "Competency is a fluid thing, month to month, day to day, week to week, however you want to look at it, it's an issue. It's always an issue. In the middle of a trial someone can become..."
Steptoe interrupted Hawkins, saying he would be inclined to allow Rush, who was in attendance, to take the stand to examine the competency issue because his report was the most recent. Parker objected to Rush taking the stand.
"Judge, the state would object to that today. As a practical matter, we came on for a hearing, we have had a significant number of hearings as it relates to competency, the court made a proper finding," Parker said. "I agree with Mr. Hawkins, it's a fluid situation, it's something that can change but at this point in time we have a finding by the court that he is competent to stand trial. There has not been a motion filed to review that issue of competency..."
Parker said the state believed the issue of competency had been settled during the April hearing.
Hawkins argued he believed that at the current time there was an issue with competency that he felt needed to be explored and trial dates should not be set.
Ryan also said he believed there was still an issue regarding Newlon's competency that should be addressed.
"Mr. Hawkins has indicated that regarding his interaction with this man, there still seems to be an issue with competency and his ability to assist the counsel," Ryan said. "Your honor, I have spent multiple times with Mr. Newlon at the (Tygart Valley) Regional Jail... clearly Mr. Newlon was not at a state of mind where he could assist me regarding his defense."
Ryan said he believed it would be inappropriate to set trial dates at the current point in time.
"Frankly, I don't think it is appropriate to set this matter for trial, jury selection, further hearings in this matter until that matter (competency) has been dealt with."
Steptoe ruled the results of the latest evaluation by Rush were not enough for him to overturn the ruling of another judge regarding Newlon's competency.
Steptoe also decided Newlon was criminally responsible because two of the three experts who evaluated Newlon found him to be criminally responsible.
"I am not going to reopen the competency issue on the basis of Dr. Rush's recommendation, and that's no lack of respect towards Dr. Rush, it's just that I think the ruling has been made and we should proceed with that in it's current place," Steptoe said.
"As far as the court ruling, as a matter of law, that the defendant was not criminally responsible, in the first place, I don't think I can do that. In the second place, I wouldn't dare do that unless both the state and the defense stipulated that both sides were satisfied... but in this case, two of the three examiners concluded he is criminally responsible."
Newlon's pre-trial conference was set for 9 a.m. Jan. 2, with jury selection at 9 a.m. Jan. 12. The trial is to commence immediately after the selection of a jury.
Hawkins and Ryan said they would file a motion regarding Newlon's competency before the trial.