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Judge will decide if Butts is fit for trial

Mental fitness hearing for Rainier police chief murder suspect Daniel Butts expected to conclude early January
by: Bill Wagner HEARING — Above, Daniel Butts stares upward during a Dec. 21 hearing regarding his mental fitness next to one of his lawyers, Diana Gentry. Gentry and the defense team plead their case that Butts is not able to aid and assist in his own defense. Butts looked much different than he did when first arrested last January. He now sports a larger body, long hair and a beard.

After two days of expert testimony last week on the mental competency of the man accused of murdering Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter, a Columbia County Circuit Court judge will soon determine if 22-year-old Daniel A. Butts is mentally fit to stand trial.

If convicted of aggravated murder, the Kalama, Wash., man could face the death penalty.

Butts' defense team has worked throughout much of the year to build a case that the suspect is incapable of aiding and assisting in his own defense, a legal requirement if his criminal proceedings will continue.

Butts, noticeably larger since his arrest Jan. 5 with long hair and a full beard, spent most of his two-day hearing Dec. 21 and Dec. 22 appearing disinterested in the testimony regarding his mental condition. He sat silent, often staring downward or at the wall.

His father Mikel Butts - who has been vocal with a belief his son needs better mental health treatment - sat in the audience as did much of Painter's family.

Butts is accused of shooting Painter once in the head with the officer's own gun at Rainier Sound Authority. Painter had responded to a call of suspicious activity and reportedly ended up struggling with Butts before being killed. A shootout with police allegedly followed, where Butts was shot once.

Following the shooting, Butts' family and friends said the young man had been increasingly erratic in the days preceding the incident.

Since being arrested, Butts has been evaluated by mental health professionals at the Oregon State Hospital and by a defense-hired psychiatrist.

Defense witness Dr. Jerry Larsen testified Dec. 22 that he believes Butts suffers from a serious mental illness. At the previous day's hearing, other physicians said it is possible Butts is faking a mental condition because of the seriousness of the crimes he faces.

St. Helens Police Detective Jose Castilleja said his conversations with Butts after the shooting showed the suspect was capable of forming rational responses and articulate his thoughts.

At the competency hearing, it was revealed that Butts' family has a history of mental illness.

Closing arguments and a judgement are expected next month. If he is found incapable of aiding in his defense, Butts will be sent back to the Oregon State Hospital until he is able to face the charges. If Judge Ted Grove decides Butts is mentally fit, criminal proceedings will continue.

AID AND ASSIST:

Under Oregon law, an 'aid and assist' hearing is used to determine if a suspect is mentally capable to help with their own defense. Someone who is found by a court to be incapable of this must first be treated for their mental illness before criminal proceedings may continue. This is not the same as determining if a suspect was certifiably insane at the time of a crime.