Hearing will soon decide whether Erik Meiser is mentally fit to proceed

Attorneys representing the suspect in a brutal Lake Oswego murder will challenge a psychiatrist’s opinion that Erik John Meiser is mentally fit for trial.

During a court hearing this week, defense attorney Jenny Cooke said she and co-counsel Robert Huggins will contest the conclusion of an evaluation by Dr. Christopher Lockey, Oregon State Hospital supervising psychiatrist.

“We dispute that Mr. Meiser has decisional competency,” Cooke said in Clackamas County Circuit Court on Monday.

Cooke noted that the outcome of an upcoming hearing could alter the course of the case. In early June, attorneys are set to debate whether Meiser’s mental condition could keep him from helping with his defense.

If the state hospital findings stand, Meiser could go to trial in June 2014.

“What the court decides about Mr. Meiser’s competency is going to shape how this case goes forward,” she said.

Meiser, 38, wore a red-and-white-striped jail uniform and was shackled at the court hearing. Six sheriff’s deputies were in the room.Meiser

He is accused of killing 57-year-old Fritz Hayes, a retired high-tech engineer, after attacking him with a knife and machete when Hayes and his wife returned to their home from a morning walk Sept. 17.

A former white supremacist, Meiser has a criminal history stretching back years across 10 states, according to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, which led the investigation of the Lake Oswego murder on Atwater Road, in an unincorporated pocket of Clackamas County.

He remains a person of interest in a Washington stabbing murder that took place in July, according to the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s Office, although he has not been arrested or charged in connection with that case. He is also accused of slashing a man with a knife or razor on Sept. 8 in Ogden, Utah.

He was sent to Oregon State Hospital for treatment after a judge found he was unable to aid and assist in his own defense. Mental health experts hired by both sides in the case diagnosed him with delusional disorder; one psychologist testified that Meiser used the term “skullduggery” frequently and felt threatened and persecuted. He allegedly worried conspirators wanted to turn one of his two children into a cannibal.

After a few months undergoing psychiatric treatment, Meiser returned to Clackamas County Jail in March.

Since then, attorneys have tangled over access to medical records. A hearing has been set for Wednesday to hear from Lockey about how those records played into his evaluation at the state hospital.

The defense team wants to keep a reported 1,300 pages of documentation under wraps, even if much of the information could come to light when witnesses testify in court.

But prosecutors said the medical records are crucial to understanding how the psychiatrist formed his opinion that Meiser was mentally fit for trial.

They also pressed for moving the case along rather than spending too much time poring over the documents, arguing over access and redacting information.

Clackamas County Deputy District Attorney Bill Golden noted the court’s three-year time limit set for Meiser’s mental condition to improve.

“We want to make sure we are using our time wisely,” Golden said.

Deputy District Attorney Chris Owen echoed that plea. He said if Meiser isn’t considered mentally fit after three years, he could be “released into the community. That is something we are not going to allow to happen.”

But Cooke challenged that notion. She said if mental health evaluators ultimately decide his competence can’t be restored, they could move for civil commitment; Meiser wouldn’t necessarily be released into the community.

Judge Eve Miller declined to speculate about what might happen three years down the line.

With so much at stake, Miller said, she wanted to “give weight” to any issues that could compromise Meiser in his defense.

If convicted of aggravated murder, he could face the death penalty.

“This is the most serious of all crimes,” Miller said, “and the most heavy of all penalties if there’s a conviction.”

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