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Judge rules Lytle fit for trial in 4-year-old daughter’s death

Jonathan Lytle is competent to stand trial in the homicide by abuse of his 4-year-old daughter, Summer Phelps, a Spokane County Superior Court Judge ruled on Monday.

Judge Michael Price lifted a stay on the trial, saying that while Lytle may be disagreeable, that doesn’t mean he’s incompetent to assist in his own defense. The trial is scheduled to start Oct. 13.

Today, Price is expected to rule on a motion by Lytle’s attorneys for a change of venue because of pretrial publicity about the case.

Lytle is accused of torturing and beating his daughter, who died on March 10, 2007, in a case medical personnel called “vicious child abuse,” according to police reports.

The judge’s competency ruling came after three mental health experts testified – two who said Lytle was competent to stand trial and one who said he was not.

Randall Strandquist, a forensic psychologist for Eastern State Hospital, diagnosed Lytle with a personality disorder, including antisocial and narcissistic traits.

Nevertheless, Strandquist said on Monday, “I find him to have the necessary skills to understand court proceedings and participate in his own defense.”

Lytle may be difficult to work with, Strandquist said, but he has no cognitive deficiencies.

Strandquist and Dr. Imelda Borromeo, an Eastern State Hospital psychiatrist, evaluated Lytle this past spring after the suspect was interviewed by Spokane psychologist Mark Mays. Lytle’s attorneys, Edward Carroll and Dennis Dressler, who told the court they were frustrated by their inability to communicate effectively with their client, requested the Mays interview.

After interviewing Lytle in January, Mays, a candidate for the 5th District congressional seat, reported Lytle was not competent to aid in his own defense because he suffers from “an adjustment disorder of psychotic proportions.”

Mays reasserted that diagnosis on Monday, saying he interviewed Lytle again in June and found him to be “significantly impaired … suspicious, paranoid distracted and confused.”

Although Lytle understood many facts in the case – that his child had died and that he had been charged – he suffered the delusion that he would be exonerated when his wife, Adriana, was found guilty of the crime, Mays said.

Adriana Lytle has since pleaded guilty to homicide by abuse of her stepdaughter and is awaiting sentencing.

Borromeo rebutted Mays’ diagnosis that Lytle was delusional, saying delusion is a fixed way of thinking that does not change over time.

“It seems like every time we see him (Lytle), something else comes up,” Borromeo said.

Earlier Monday, Price denied defense motions to close the competency hearing to the public and seal three affidavits filed by the defense.

The affidavits, written by Carroll, Dressler and their intern, Cheyenne Kiernan, expressed difficulty communicating with Lytle because of his bizarre notions.

The attorneys wrote that Lytle believed his wife was a demon, that he was fixated on dictionary definitions and meaningless numeric combinations and that his daughter was killed in the emergency room by an injection of iodine that stopped her already damaged heart.

“All of the interaction and materials we have seen from Mr. Lytle has caused me to come to the conclusion that he is not able to assist us in formulating a defense in this case,” Carroll wrote.

The prosecution team, led by Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll, was able to persuade Price otherwise.

“He has the capacity to participate in his defense,” Driscoll said. “He just chooses not to because of his personality disorder.”

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