MEEKER I In a preliminary hearing on Friday in Meeker, Public Defender Elise Myer entered a plea of “not guilty by reason of insanity” on behalf of her client, Logan Piper, in the stabbing of former Rio Blanco County Sheriff Si Woodruff in the parking lot of Pioneers Medical Center on Aug. 21, 2014.
At a previous hearing Dec. 19, it was the opinion of prosecutor Matthew Barrett that this preliminary hearing would be “very straight forward (because) the facts of the actual stabbing of Sheriff Si Woodruff are (not) in dispute.” That opinion proved to be true as the entire hearing took only 30 minutes.
Admitting that this was his first case involving a plea of “not guilty by reason of insanity,” District Court Judge John Neily stated, “I spent quite a bit of time reading the statute preparing the advisement” so Piper would completely understand the implications of his plea.
As a reminder, Judge Neily first reviewed the four counts in the case: two Class 3 felonies of assault in the first degree with extreme indifference, assault in the first degree of a peace officer with a deadly weapon and two class 5 felonies of menacing and menacing with a real or simulated weapon.
Neily then instructed the defendant that his plea fits the category of “an affirmative defense.”
“An affirmative defense means that if you, in fact, committed the charges (against you), you have a reason or defense that would excuse you from guilt or accountability for that offense,” he said.
Neily went on to clarify that the plea of “not guilty by reason of insanity” therefore “means that at the time you committed the offense, you were suffering from some mental disease or defect that made you incapable of knowing right from wrong with regard to that offense or prevented you from forming the necessary mental state or state of mind to find you guilty of that offense.”
Such careful clarification is important in such a case because “once you raise the issue of ‘not guilty by reason of insanity,’ the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were, in fact, sane,” Neily continued. “The burden is on the persecution to overcome that affirmative defense.”
Neily then outlined the consequences of such a plea. One such consequence is that under the current statute, the jury will decide both the insanity (or sanity) of the defendant as well as the actual facts of the case, at a single trial, unlike the older statute that tried these separately.
Another consequence of such a plea is waving the normal right of privilege concerning any communications with a doctor or psychologist regarding mental condition.
“If I accept your plea, you will have to go to the state hospital in Pueblo and you will undergo a sanity examination by one or more psychiatrists or forensic psychologists,” Neily stated. Their report will then be delivered to the prosecution and defense counsels. Neily assured the defendant, however, that he does have the right to hire additional independent psychological examination by an expert of his own choice. All these reports, as well as other testimony, can be used at trial for and against the defendant.
These reports can also be used in a sentencing hearing if there is a conviction,” he said.
If the defendant is found not guilty on that basis, while he will not be remanded to the Department of Corrections, he will be sent to the state hospital for an indefinite period of time.
“You will not be released until it is determined by the people at the state hospital that you no longer need to be hospitalized,” Neily warned.
He then asked the defendant personally for his plea for each of the four counts, to which the defendant pled “not guilty by reason of insanity” for each. Neily accepted that plea and so ordered the defendant to be examined at the state hospital for a period of up to 60 days.
One additional consequence of such a plea was clarified by prosecutor Matthew Barrett; that of a speedy trial.
If the defendant would have pleaded just “not guilty,” he would be entitled to a trial within six months of the Feb. 6 date, Barrett said. Because of his insanity plea, however, “the speedy-trial clock doesn’t start until the court receives the report (from the state hospital),” he concluded. The judge thanked Barrett for making this clear for the record.
A status review of the case was set for April 3, which could include the setting of a trial date.