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Judge to decide Butts' competency for trial

Ruling will move trail forward or place accused killer Daniel A. Butts back at State Hospital


by: PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL WAGNER - Daniel A. Butts spent most of the three-day mental competency hearing Feb. 21 to 23 with his fingers in his ears. Columbia County Judge Ted Groves will decide Feb. 27 whether or not Butts will go to trial for the 2011 slaying of Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter.Columbia County Circuit Judge Ted Grove will decide today whether or not Daniel A. Butts, the accused killer of Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter, will stand trial or head to the state mental hospital.

The hearing will take place 1:30 p.m. at Columbia County Circuit Court in St. Helens. Look for an updated story online at spotlightnews.net.

Depending on Grove’s decision, the case could either move forward to a trial or Butts could go to the Oregon State Mental Hospital for treatment until he is deemed competent to stand trial.

Butts, outfitted with two stun belts, was present at the three-day hearing Feb. 20 to Feb. 22, but spent much of the time with his fingers in his ears or slouched forward across the table, his head buried in his arms.

Butts’ lawyers insist their client suffers from mental illness. Defense lawyer Patrick Sweeney said Butts doesn’t speak to them and will no longer meet to discuss the charges against him.

“That’s not the way it was in the beginning,” Sweeney said. “It’s just gotten worse and worse.”

He said it is impossible for them to do their jobs if their client can’t or won’t communicate with them.

Butts’ attorneys also pointed to testimony by Dr. Richard Adler, a forensic psychiatrist hired by the defense. Adler was highly critical of the state hospital’s evaluation of the 23-year-old Kalama man, saying its staff didn’t conduct important diagnostic tests and ignored obvious, serious signs of mental illness.

Though doctors from the state hospital concluded they could not diagnose a mental illness in Butts, Adler was firm in his diagnoses: Butts has some form of schizophrenia, he said. Several of Butts’ family members suffer from the disease, he said, and it’s not uncommon for it to run in families.

Columbia County District Attorney Stephen Atchison, however, maintains that Butts, faced with few options and high-stakes charges — an aggravated murder charge can carry the death penalty in Oregon — is faking insanity.

“He has not deteriorated in the way Dr. Adler said he would if untreated because he’s about the same as he was two years ago,” Atchison said in his closing argument Feb. 22.

Butts has consistently refused treatment since his arrest following a shoot-out in Rainier, Jan. 5, 2011, which resulted in Painter’s death. He has been shunted between the Columbia County Jail, the Multnomah County Jail and the State Hospital and has undergone a variety of mental health evaluations.

While his behavior has often been erratic, Columbia County Jail Lt. Brooke McDowall said Butts’ behavior has improved over the last couple of months as compared to the first six months of his incarceration in 2011. He also noted that since Butts’ arrest, Butts has become less and less verbal.

“He will talk when he wants to,” McDowall said. “The majority of his conversation is non-verbal.”

Sweeney said Butts has exhibited a variety of concerning behaviors including a hunger strike in October during which he lost 16 pounds. Jailers coaxed him back into eating using food they bought at Taco Bell. Butts has also expressed interest in assisted suicide and a jail nurse reported Butts had been having “auditory hallucinations.”

During breaks in the hearing, Sweeney noted all of Butts’ activities in the courtroom, saying he heard Butts laughing while his head was down on the table. Butts would not reply to any questions Sweeney asked except once on Feb. 21 when he yelled at Sweeney to get the stun devices off of him and bring him cheeseburgers.

During Butts’ second admission to the State Hospital earlier in 2012, psychiatrist Stephanie Lopez said she observed no such behaviors and none were reported to her.

“Psychosis can get better over time, but it wouldn’t suddenly resolve and then maintain,” she said, adding that Butts seemed motivated to do what staff asked him to do if it got him something he wanted, such as time for TV or to listen to music.

When further asked about her observations and conclusions regarding Butts during his second stay at the Oregon State Hospital, Lopez said, “Not only did we not stack the deck [against him], I remember having a very strong obligation... OK, he’s coming back again. We have to take a fresh look.”