Superior Court Judge James Orlando of Pierce County, Washington has ruled that a 91-year-old man with proven dementia and a delusion disorder is still competent to stand trial for murder. Orlando held that competency is a “fairly low standard” that does not appear to exclude demented defendants like Joe Conway Elder.
In a remarkable understatement, Orlando noted “[t]he case will be challenging for defense counsel and the court, but at the present time it appears Mr. Elder does have the capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings and to assist in his own defense. He is able to communicate verbally and is not so profoundly delusional that he would be unable to participate in a trial or assist his attorney in possible defenses.”
Elder has Alzheimer’s-like dementia and also had documented delusions about being pursued by undercover police for the past 30 years or so. It appears that he believed that the victim – 39-year-old Ramoncito Barro – was working with the undercover police and planning to harm him when he killed him. Barro was shot as he delivered some fruit to Elder’s room at Total Care AFH, an adult-care home in the 5800 block of 62nd Street West in University Place.
The death of Barro is a terrible tragedy as caregiver and the father of five and has outraged the Filipino community.
It is certainly true that the standard for competency in many states has become so low that it is legally meaningless in many cases. This parallels the narrowing of the insanity defense itself, which does not include irresistible impulse in most states any longer, here.
For a video of Elder, click here.