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Ricin suspect ordered to obtain psychiatric evaluation

A federal judge has ordered a Spokane man accused of sending ricin-laced letters to government officials, including President Barack Obama, receive psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is competent to stand trial.

Matthew Ryan Buquet has been in federal custody since May, when several letters that initially tested positive for the castor bean-derived toxin arrived at the Thomas S. Foley Courthouse in downtown Spokane. The missives, which included the message “We have a bomb placed we are going to kill you! Hezbollah,” arrived in envelopes bearing the return address of a downtown Spokane law firm, according to court documents since sealed.

A female employee of the firm reported she began receiving notes and gifts, including a can of Coca-Cola, on her desk. Buquet, a member of the janitorial crew that cleaned the office space leased by the law firm, had been dismissed from previous jobs for similar behavior. The FBI detained Buquet at his apartment shortly after the letters were discovered and interrogated him at a hotel, according to court paperwork. An FBI agent with the investigation said at the time Buquet appeared “gravely disabled,” exhibited “bizarre behaviors” and was “delusional,” according to court records.

U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty authorized the mental evaluation. Haggerty, an Oregon judge, was assigned to the case after a Spokane judge recused himself because one of the poisoned letters was addressed to a colleague.

Haggerty wrote in his ordered he was “satisfied that there is reasonable cause to believe the defendant may not be competent to understand the charges against him and to assist in his defense.”

A hearing to argue the findings of the competency hearing is set for May, with a potential jury trial in the case pushed to October. Buquet has been indicted on a criminal charge of possessing a deadly biological agent and two counts of mailing threatening communications. If convicted of the charges, Buquet could spend 20 years to the rest of his life in federal prison.

Judge Lodge: No closed courtroom for Duncan hearing testimony

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has rejected a request that the courtroom be closed for part of a convicted murderer's mental competency hearing. The Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/ts2JbV) reported U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge made the ruling Thursday morning in the competency hearing of Joseph Edward Duncan III. An appellate court ordered the hearing to help Lodge determine if Duncan was mentally competent back in 2008, when he gave up his right to appeal his death sentence for the 2005 kidnapping of two northern Idaho children and the murder of one of them. Duncan's attorneys wanted some testimony from Duncan's former lawyers kept secret, saying it could harm the attorney-client relationship they have with Duncan and scare off current and future clients.

Psychologist: Duncan paranoid, but competent

Condemned killer Joseph Duncan scored high on a test measuring paranoia, but was still legally competent to serve as his own attorney when he waived his right to appeal his death sentence, a forensic psychologist testified in federal court in Boise yesterday. Dr. Robert Engle was the lead expert witness for federal prosecutors, who are arguing that Duncan was competent, as ruled by the court at the time. His lawyers say he wasn’t, so his waiver of appeals shouldn’t stand. You can read a full report here from AP reporter Rebecca Boone; the retrospective competency hearing on Duncan continues today in federal court, and is expected to last several weeks.

Court hearing: Duncan targeted Spokane boy before settling on his Idaho victims

Before Joseph Duncan murdered a 9-year-old North Idaho boy in 2005, he set his sights on a Spokane child, posing as a prospective renter and touring a Spokane duplex with the boy’s mother while ogling the child. That news emerged in federal court in Boise this morning, where a judge is trying to determine if Duncan was mentally competent in 2008 when he waived all appeals of his triple death sentence. Among the evidence being presented is hours of interviews between Duncan and two FBI agents, in which he talked about his crimes, his reasons for waiving his appeals and more.

In the interviews, Duncan corrected the FBI agents about some things in their investigation that they’d gotten wrong, including concluding that he’d targeted a Spokane preschool music program as a possible target for his crimes, before settling on the Groene family in North Idaho to attack. Actually, Duncan said, his target in Spokane was a shirtless young boy who was adjusting a for-rent sign at a duplex down an alley from the site; Duncan said he posed as a prospective renter and toured the home with the child’s mother and the youngster. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Duncan case headed back to Idaho courtroom for competency hearing

Condemned killer Joseph Duncan will be back in an Idaho federal courtroom in January,  for a two-week hearing on whether he was mentally competent when he waived his right to appeal his death sentence. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge is now sorting through issues relating to experts who will testify;  he issued a ruling last week on that. You can read a full report here from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.  Duncan’s defense attorneys say the crux of the case is whether Duncan suffered from religious delusions or merely held unusual religious beliefs, according to court documents.

In 2008, a federal jury sentenced Duncan to death for the kidnapping, torture and murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene of Coeur d’Alene. He also received nine life sentences for a murderous rampage in 2005, in which he killed three members of Dylan’s family in order to kidnap and molest the family’s two youngest children; only Dylan’s then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, survived. Since then, Duncan also has been convicted of a previous kidnapping and murder involving a 10-year-old California boy, drawing two more life sentences; in that case, after weeks of expert testimony, the court also ruled him mentally competent.

In the Idaho case, however, despite extensive delays for evaluations of Duncan’s mental competency, the judge had never held a competency hearing in open court. That meant all the information on Duncan’s mental competency remained secret. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that without such a hearing there was “reasonable doubt” about Duncan’s competency, and ordered Lodge to hold a “retrospective” competency hearing on Duncan’s mental state in 2008.  If, after the hearing, Lodge rules that Duncan was competent when he waived his right to appeal, the death sentence stands. But if not, Lodge would then have to hold another hearing to determine if Duncan was mentally competent when he waived his right to an attorney in his 2008 sentencing trial and instead represented himself. That could force a replay of the whole sentencing trial.

That sentencing trial included graphic testimony and evidence about the crimes of the serial child molester and murderer. In his closing statement in that trial in 2008, Duncan told the jury, “You people really don’t have any clue yet of the true heinousness of what I’ve done.”

Bearded woman asks for new trial

A woman who wears a beard as a symbol of her activism and lives as a man is asking for a new trial following her conviction earlier this month for grabbing a Spokane Police officer's genitals in 2009 during an arrest.

 Joseph Ali Bin Muhammad, 45, formerly Paula K. Reynolds-Eblacas, represented himself at trial in which a jury deliberated just 20 minutes before convicting him April 11. He is scheduled to be sentenced today.

In his motion for a new trial, Muhammad alleged misconduct, “surprise” and jury manipulation by Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Patrick Johnson. He also said Johnson was simply using the assault case as an evidence-gathering mission to charge the two officers, who were attempting in 2009 to take Muhammad into custody for a mental evaluation.

“The defendant felt a great aversion to being misused by the prosecutor to embarrass and humiliate the officers as it is not the defendant's intent or desire to be the target of corrupted officers in Spokane,” Muhammad wrote, referring to himself as “defendant.” “The defendant's safety was being put in jeopardy by a bizzarre, backwards, and most likely illegal strategy of the prosecutor to gain more evidence against the officers, and so the defendant changed his defense strategy to not show the video. Had he entered the video as evidence, the jury may have voted for acquittal as the video gives great suggestion that no charge should have ever been placed on the defendant and that (Officer John) O'Brien and (Officer Jeremy McVay) are blatant liars who violated the defendant that day.”

Johnson had argued that Muhammad was not mentally competent to stand trial. Muhammad, however, successfully argued he was competent despite the fact that him being delcared incompetent would have resulted in dismissed charges.

As part of his seven-page motion, Muhammad also wrote that 20 minutes was not enough time for the jurors to fully consider the case.

“Jurors may have held mulpitle bias against the defendant, including for him being a hermaphrodite and for being a Muslim,” said Muhammad, who gave birth to a daughter prior to changing his name. “Jurors may have been motivated by the second sunny warm day after a long cold winter to disregard their oaths and the United States Constitution … so that they could finish their task before lunch and have the rest of the sunny afternoon to enjoy free from work or juror responsibilities.”
  

Past coverage:

Dec. 14: Fugitive since February jailed on $50k bond

Aug. 11, 2009: Bearded woman back in court

State wanted case halted for mental issue

A woman who lives as a man, including wearing a full beard she previously described as a public display of her activism, was ruled competent Tuesday to stand trial on the charge of assaulting a police officer in 2009.

 Prosecutors are disappointed.

Yes, you read that right.

In a reversal of the norm, it wasn’t a defense attorney or even the defendant, Joseph Ali Bin Muhammad – formerly Paula K. Reynolds-Eblacas, 45who asked to avoid prosecution by a ruling of mental incompetence.

Read the rest of Tom Clouse's story here.

Past coverage:

Dec. 14: Fugitive since February jailed on $50k bond

Aug. 11, 2009: Bearded woman back in court