Saunders' asked attorney to plead guilty
WINDOM -- Douglas Saunders instructed his defense lawyer to plead guilty to first degree murder following the Dec. 16 competency hearing, according to a legal memorandum regarding competency filed by attorney Calvin Johnson on behalf of Saunders ...
WINDOM -- Douglas Saunders instructed his defense lawyer to plead guilty to first degree murder following the Dec. 16 competency hearing, according to a legal memorandum regarding competency filed by attorney Calvin Johnson on behalf of Saunders on Jan. 30.
The memorandum further states no plea will be forthcoming until the judge rules on the issue of competency.
Saunders, 32, of Odin, is being held in the Cottonwood County Jail after allegedly killing 57-year-old Howard Hockel of Odin on Dec. 17, 2004. After a grand jury hearing, Saunders was charged with first-degree murder. In April, a Rule 20 motion was requested to determine Saunders's competency to stand trial. A hearing in December for that purpose ended without a decision.
After the December hearing, both the state and the defense were given time to submit final arguments in writing. Both were filed in Cottonwood County District Court earlier this week. Each side now has two weeks to respond to the other's brief, then the judge will take the matter under consideration.
In the state's memorandum, Assistant Attorney General William Klumpp comes to the conclusion Saunders should be found competent to stand trial.
"The testimony at the hearing clearly established that the defendant is capable of understanding the proceedings and participating in his defense notwithstanding his mental illness," Klumpp's memorandum states.
Johnson's memorandum disagrees, stating, "The court should err on the side of caution and ensure that Douglas Saunders is competent to proceed rather than revisit this issue in the future should his condition degenerate even further. If we do the job right the first time, we won't have to do it again."
Neither side is debating the fact that Saunders is mentally ill. The main conflict lies in whether he is competent enough to assist his attorney in his defense.
Dr. Michael Farnsworth, a forensic psychiatrist retained by Johnson, does not believe Saunders is competent enough to proceed to trial. Dr. John Fabian, a forensic psychologist retained by the state, disagrees.
Both doctors found the defendant to be mentally ill and agreed that mental illness by itself does not render a defender incompetent to stand trial.
Fabian testified he believed Saunders had the ability to participate meaningfully in his defense. Saunders told Fabian he knew Johnson socially and did not trust anyone but believed he could work with Johnson.
Farnsworth said it was not clear that Saunders was able to rationally discuss his motivation and thought process, something Farnsworth believes is quite relevant to the issue of criminal responsibility.
"It would be difficult for (defense council) to mount the appropriate defense that would be in his best interest," Farnsworth said.
"In essence," Klumpp's memorandum states, "when one examines Dr. Farnsworth's testimony, what he is really saying is that because the defendant at this point is unwilling to go forward with the defense Dr. Farnsworth believes would be his best defense, namely the insanity defense, Dr. Farnsworth does not believe the defendant is competent to stand trial."
Johnson's memorandum states Saunders has instructed defense council not to assert a defense of not guilty by reason of insanity.
According to Farnsworth, Saunders was disturbed when Hockel told Saunders he loved him and asked him out to dinner. Saunders explained his reasons for allegedly killing Hockel by saying he felt Hockel was making advances toward him in an inappropriate fashion. He told both examiners he wanted to kill the victim he knew as a coworker, friend and co-farmer.