May 24, 2011 in City

Judge rules Strandberg lawyer will also be defense witness

Attorney, doctors differ over statement at exam
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Insanity plea

Defense attorney Chris Bugbee has previously said in court that his client killed Bergeron. However, he has argued that Strandberg should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Mental health professionals at Eastern State Hospital have regularly concluded that Strandberg suffers no mental illness and that he was essentially faking his delusions.

Strandberg’s trial is set for Sept. 12.

A judge ruled Monday that defense attorney Chris Bugbee will continue to represent accused crossbow killer Cole K. Strandberg. But the lawyer now has an added job title: witness.

Bugbee has a different recollection of what his client said during a mental health exam regarding when he had sex with the victim than the doctors, putting the defense lawyer in the unusual position of having to present Strandberg’s legal defense as well as present testimony as a sworn witness.

Because of that potential conflict, Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Mark Cipolla asked Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen to remove Bugbee as Strandberg’s attorney. The judge rejected it.

The problem arose following a forensic interview attended by Strandberg, Bugbee and two mental health professionals at Eastern State Hospital, which has been criticized for its handling of the case.

At that recent interview, Strandberg indicated that he had sex with 22-year-old Jennifer Bergeron, whom he killed with a crossbow on Jan. 7, 2008. The two mental health doctors wrote in their notes that they remember Strandberg saying that he had sex with his victim prior to the killing. But Bugbee claims, and his notes reflect, that Strandberg said he had sex with the woman after she died.

While morbid, the timing is key in deciding whether Strandberg can be charged with rape. Under state law, a rape cannot occur with someone who is dead, Cipolla said.

“The state really doesn’t want to see” Bugbee removed, Cipolla said. “But … we have to be very careful how we proceed.”

Bugbee said he didn’t believe it was a conflict to testify about his recollection of the interview in dispute.

“The only question is whether it’s allowed to have the advocate testify as a witness,” he said.

Eitzen decided to allow Bugbee to testify and remain as attorney, but his testimony will be narrowly focused on the single issue.

“We’ve got a young man who has been incarcerated since 2008. To change attorneys at this point would cause another year delay,” she said. “I can’t do that to this young man.”

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