Mimesis Law
21 November 2017

Robert Dear Shows Us What Mental Incompetence Looks Like

May 11, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Robert Dear, the murderer/terrorist who shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic last year and then proclaimed, “I’m guilty. There’s no trial,” in court is set for another hearing regarding his competence to stand trial:

The man accused of killing three people during a rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado last year is returning to court Tuesday for another hearing to determine if he is competent to stand trial.

This comes nearly two weeks after a day-long hearing ended with no official determination about whether Robert Lewis Dear Jr. is mentally competent.

Just looking at pretty much any photograph of Dear, with his cabin-in-the-woods beard, hair standing up on end, and wide, wide eyes, should give you a pretty solid idea about his competence. On top of that, there’s the fact he killed people at Planned Parenthood because he thought he was “a warrior for the babies,” and muttered, “no more baby parts” upon his arrest. Yet somehow, despite the fact the last one took up an entire day, it’s going to take another hearing for the court to decide if Dear is competent. And that’s after a court-ordered evaluation found him incompetent:

While a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation did find him to be incompetent and mental-health evaluators said during the earlier hearing that Dear suffers from delusions, a judge has to figure out what happens next. A police detective said during the same hearing that Dear appeared lucid during his interviews and had said he did not want to claim insanity.

A psychiatric evaluation said Dear was incompetent. Evaluators said he suffered from delusions. A cop, on the other hand, thought he was just fine.  Hopefully it wasn’t just that that gave the judge pause.

Do you know who pretty much always claims to be sane? Genuinely crazy people. They also do things like spontaneously confess in open court. Do you know who sometimes seems lucid? Crazy people. That’s why we have professionals, like those who evaluated Dear, offer an opinion on competence in cases like his. The only people who typically insist they’re crazy are the malingerers, the fakers who think they’ll get some sort of benefit by pretending to be incompetent. And they normally don’t start the charade immediately following the crime:

Dear, 57, has also been accused of injuring nine people during a November shooting spree at the clinic in Colorado Springs. Police documents state that Dear told police that after the shooting, he anticipated going to heaven and being met and thanked “by all the aborted fetuses at the gates of heaven.”

Dear has been pretty darn consistent:

When he was taken into custody, Dear yelled out statements about killing babies and later told police he had brought eight guns and a “homemade ballistic vest” to the clinic, police said. They also said Dear recited Bible verses and called President Obama the “Antichrist.”

It’s tough to know just what argument prosecutors are going to use to convince the court Dear is competent to stand trial. Perhaps they’ll argue his idea that he’ll be met at the gates of heaven by aborted fetuses isn’t that crazy. After all, lots of people think they’ll meet their dead relatives or some sort of Supreme Being upon death. Why not aborted fetuses?

Reciting Bible verses is something millions of Americans do each day, and sadly, political discourse in this country is such that calling the Obama the Antichrist may be more suggestive of general political leanings than incompetence. Maybe they’ll say it’s only the context, the fact Dear did all of that after shooting people, which makes us call into question his competence and that it isn’t enough.

Although the prosecution might take that approach to arguing Dear is competent, it’s doubtful. It seems Colorado law defines “incompetent to proceed” as follows:

“Incompetent to proceed” means that, as a result of a mental disability or developmental disability, the defendant does not have sufficient present ability to consult with the defendant’s lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding in order to assist in the defense, or that, as a result of a mental disability or developmental disability, the defendant does not have a rational and factual understanding of the criminal proceedings.

At his second hearing alone, Dear tried to fire his lawyers and represent himself, and then he refused to cooperate with competency proceedings and claimed the jail was poisoning him. All that happened after he confessed the first time he appeared in court. Plus, the crime itself, especially in light of the bizarre things he did following his arrest, is just not the sort of thing a competent person would do.

How can a prosecutor possibly say with a straight face that Dear isn’t mentally disabled? What about Dear suggests he’s capable of assisting his lawyers, the ones he’s trying to fire, at all? How could anyone claim a guy who blurts out that he’s guilty in court has a rational and factual understanding of criminal proceedings?

There’s a nasty and generally wrong idea circulating amongst the general public that people deemed incompetent in the criminal justice system somehow get away with their crimes as a result. In reality, Colorado law appears to allow the state to hold Dear until he’s restored to competency. That can be up to the maximum term Dear could serve for his crimes, which almost certainly means the rest of his life. Plus, if he’s restored, trial goes ahead again. Although the law makes it seem like it could theoretically be possible, it isn’t like any judge is going to release Dear. In other words, even if Dear is found incompetent, he’s not going anywhere. Ever.

The clear definition of incompetence, which Dear certainly fits, should make this a pretty easy case, and yet prosecutors are still fighting it and the judge is still giving it serious thought. More importantly, they’re all focusing their time and effort on this despite the fact Dear is likely to spend the rest of his life removed from society either way.

When it comes to competency, the system might make sense in a close case, but in Dear’s case, its absurdity is on obvious display. Makes you wonder if he’s the only crazy one in the room.

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  • Richard G. Kopf
    11 May 2016 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    Matt,

    Great post on a subject far too many lawyers know too little about. It brought back memories that still haunt me.

    Crazy people can and frequently do appear to be sane for limited periods of time. Consider the following true story (from an old blog post)about my experience as a baby lawyer:

    She was my first real client. In her late sixties, she stood about six feet tall and was dressed in work pants and a work shirt. On her large feet, she wore polished leather work boots. I remember her hands were big and powerful. Her face was deeply tanned. Her hair was short. Her eyes were deep blue and, even indoors, she squinted as if she spent most of her time in the sun. Well-spoken, she had an aura of quiet authority befitting an owner of several irrigated farms.

    After the Clerk of the local court had called to say that I had been appointed to represent the woman before the Dawson County Mental Health Board, I took a quick look at the statutes. The County Attorney would have to establish that she was a danger to herself or others before the Board could commit her to the Hastings Regional Center. I walked briskly over to the Sheriff’s office to confer with the woman. The time was short, I had only an hour or so to prepare.

    I interviewed her in the Sheriff’s inner office. She sat at an oak table and I sat across from her. On the wall of his office, the Sheriff, Big John, had a peg board on which he displayed knives, guns and other tools of mayhem that he had come across in his work. That made me slightly nervous, but Big John told me my client was a nice woman.

    She was clearly oriented to time, place and person. I asked her why they picked her up. She told me that she had been married for the first time several years back to a much older man who was in his 80s. His son did not like her, and the man kidnapped her husband and took the old man to the son’s home. While it was true that she had parked a hatchet in the front door of the son’s home when they refused to let her in, she did so only to get their attention and then only to rescue her beloved husband.

    The story was strange, but not crazy. I told her to leave it to me. We went into the hearing room–actually a conference room with another big oak table where the Board sat. The County Attorney was there, with the son. The Board consisted of a lawyer, a doctor, and the Clerk. After I told the Board that we contested the State’s request to commit, the hearing began. I made sure the woman had a legal pad and a pen to write me notes.

    After the County Attorney got done, I was pretty hopeful. The son told a story that pretty much matched the story of my client. It was my turn to ask questions. After I had asked a few warm-ups, the woman began to get agitated. She whispered to me, “Ask him about the birthday chicken.” I ignored the suggestion. Then, out loud, and insistently, she ordered: “He stole my birthday chicken. Ask him about my birthday chicken!” And, so I did.

    It was summer. Hot, very hot. You simply don’t know heat until you experience high plains heat. The son said he worried for his father. The woman and the old man liked to drive around the woman’s farms in the middle of the day. They drove her old Ford. One day, the son came upon the woman and the son’s father on a gravel road. They were parked across from one of her farms. They were watching the tenant run the center pivot sprinkler.

    In the back of the old Ford was a plucked chicken, and it was rotting. It stunk to high heavens. When the son inquired about the chicken, the woman replied happily that they were going to cook and eat the chicken that night in celebration of her 69th birthday. The woman’s husband, the old man, just grinned. Anyway, it was later that day that the son drove out to the woman’s place, and removed the carcass of the decaying bird from the old Ford. After that, he snatched his father and took him to the son’s home. That’s when the woman came calling with her hatchet.

    The Board quickly voted to commit. As Big John walked my client out to his Crown Victoria for the ride to the Regional Center, I gave her my brand new professional card. It was the good kind. When you ran your fingers over the card you could feel the raised lettering. It said that I was an attorney-at-law.

    I assured the woman I would appeal if directed to do so. She took the card and put it in her hip pocket. She looked at me, and said, “You’re a knucklehead.” That’s the last time I saw her.

    Some months later, I learned that the Regional Center had stabilized the woman. After that, she was released with a prescription. She returned to her home. The old man, her husband, was gone. Off to a care home, but she didn’t know where.

    Soon thereafter, she took a 12-gauge and blew her brains out. My professional card continued to say that I was an attorney-at-law, but I was not so sure.

    RGK