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Judge sends accused cop killer to state hospital

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSON - Amy Painter, widow of slain Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter, answers questions from the media after her husband€sˇÃ„ôs accused killer, Daniel A. Butts, was declared mentally incompetent to go to trial at this time. SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: KATIE WILSONThough accused cop killer Daniel Butts will go to the state mental hospital for treatment rather than stand trial, Oregon State Hospital statistics show that over half of the “aid and assist” patients the hospital treats eventually return to the courtroom.

Of the 383 patients admitted in 2011 who were accused of serious crimes but were unable to aid in their own defense at the time they began treatment at the hospital, 262 went back to court. Of the 405 patients admitted in 2012, 257 returned to the courtroom to face the charges against them. The average length of stay at the hospital in 2012 was 107 days.

Even with these statistics on his side, Columbia County District Attorney Steve Atchison said the case has now grown more complex. The longer it takes for the case to move to trial, the harder it will be for his office to track down witnesses again, he said.

Columbia County Circuit Court Judge Ted Grove ordered Butts to be forcibly medicated with anti-psychotic drugs upon his arrival at the state hospital. Since his arrest in 2011, Butts has refused all forms of treatment, including medical attention for self-inflicted stab wounds in 2012.

If the hospital finds no improvement after three years, the charges against Butts — including charges of aggravated murder — could be dropped. He could also be civilly committed for ongoing mental health treatment, Atchison said.

Butts is accused of killing Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter in 2011. Butts has already stayed at the state hospital on two different occasions since his arrest and psychiatrists there concluded they could not diagnose a mental illness in him.

Atchison had been confident at the hearing Feb. 27, chatting with the Painter family beforehand, making sure none of them had extensive travel plans in case a trial was on the horizon. But then Grove announced his decision to send Butts back to the mental hospital.

“It is clear that [Butts] is not cooperating with counsel nor participating in his defense,” Grove’s Feb. 27 decision states, referencing Butts infrequent verbal communication, his lack of response to his attorneys, a hunger strike at the jail, involuntary body spasms and other possible signs of mental illness.

“Is this a rational and calculated strategy or the product of a mental disorder?” the decision continues. “The only way to resolve this dispute is to eliminate the continuing concern of mental illness. Failure to do so at this stage risks grave problems down the road.”

Butts’ defense attorneys have argued that the 23-year-old Kalama, Wash., man suffers from some form of schizophrenia, while Atchison has countered by saying Butts is able to participate when he choses to do so and, faced with serious charges, a strong case against him and the possibility of the death penalty, is faking a mental illness.

Grove’s decision is a setback for the Painter family, members of which have expressed disappointment in how long the case has taken to travel through the court system.

“We were hoping to move forward,” said Amy Painter, Chief Ralph Painter’s widow. Though she said she views Grove’s decision as only a temporary issue, it doesn’t make anything easier.

“Every now and then you think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “Then it goes dark again.”