Elder’s Law: Demented 91-Year Old Found Competent to Stand Trial

caregiver_-_450Superior 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.

For the full story, click here and here.

11 thoughts on “Elder’s Law: Demented 91-Year Old Found Competent to Stand Trial”

  1. “Justice is a balance. And while I feel for Mr Elders circumstance – another man is dead. His wife a widow and his children without a father.”


    Justice may be a balance, but it is clearly not an appeal to emotion as you have postulated here. The law is clear about the rights of the accused, and most fair minded people would agree this is an excess given the information that we know. No one has complete and perfect knowledge though I agree the Judge has more than we do. I also can attest that Judges make errors for scores of reasons not the least of which is their desire to stay employed. We have every right to question them–they are accountable to us after all– and to comment when we see a perceived injustice. That is what separates us from the docile donkey subjects of those totalitarian states so beloved by the neo-cons. “Shutting up and just taking it” hasn’t been in our DNA since Lexington & Concord, neither has the belief that emotions like vengeance rule over our reason, the mutations caused by our neocon brethren notwithstanding.

  2. Justice is a balance. And while I feel for Mr Elders circumstance – another man is dead. His wife a widow and his children without a father.
    Ought not the family, if not the community, be afforded the full facts and circumstances as to how this tragedy came to pass?

    I suspect the judge is much less seeking to ‘judge’ Elder – but to understand the self same questions raised here –
    why did he have a gun?
    what were the circumstances of the death?
    what was done to alleviate this man’s known delusional suffering?
    what precautions did the home owners take to ameliorate the risk of harm from these delusions to their staff?

    An inquiry may well have sufficed without subjecting Elder to what appears to be a prima facae case of mental incapacity (and an inquiry may be ensue); but would it call to account everyone concerned if the judge had just passed this guy off as ‘mentally unfit’? And would it satisfy the community the victim came from to just undertake a ‘paper exercise’?

    Reactions based on a 6 paragraph summation of the circumstance are not the same as a response based on a Judge’s deliberation of information first hand.

  3. PattyC,
    I agree with your question of why was a 91 year old dementia patient was allowed to have a weapon. Something is not right with that story.

  4. Yet another example of why American “justice” is to justice what Velveeta* is to cheese.

    * Velveeta contains less than 51% cheese.

  5. Patty C.,
    Your question about his gun possession is an interesting one. While I am a 2nd Amendment defender, I can also see the irony of the NRA’s future defense of his sacred right to bear arms, as an example of avoiding the “slippery slope.”

  6. I think a better argument may be made that this is a ‘Mom n’ Pop’ operation and the proprietors were in over their heads when they accepted this particular gentlemen into their care.

    Clearly, he should have been placed elsewhere and this will all come out in the course of the proceedings.

  7. It is an appalling decision, yet as Mespo and Rafflaw have commented, keeping on pace with the times. All too often we see the calls for minors to be charged as adults, from the perspective of the victim’s family. While people of course empathize with the pain of a victim’s loved ones, no legal system has been devised to perform perfect justice.

    What we’re seeing, in my opinion, is the fulfillment of the public’s revenge fantasy in response to a given horror, as fanned to flames by a media solely interested in sensationalism for profit. What too often gets lost in the media feeding frenzy is the way our justice system is supposed to work. As Mespo notes this bad decision can only redound to Judge Orlando’s benefit. Damn, Rudy Giuliani built his entire career on such grandstanding, so did Tom Dewey another NY Republican.

  8. We’ll see what happens. My question is why was this 91 yo patient, with longstanding dementia, permitted to have a loaded gun at the care facility?

    ‘The judge ordered the case to move forward but warned that Elder’s competency again could become an issue.

    “There is a likelihood that Mr. Elder may continue to decline and a possibility that competency may need to be examined again prior to trial,” Orlando wrote.

    The judge also said he’d be willing to sign an order to have Elder evaluated for a possible mental-health defense…

  9. rafflaw:

    I suspect the Judge cares not a wit since the desires of the mob have been satiated and his re-election seems secure.

  10. Mespo,
    You are right that this judge just does not truly understand how poor a decision this is. How can someone who has delusions be able to tell reality from fantasy? Then with his dementia, how is he supposed to tell his defense team what was going on in his head at the time of the crime. The system is letting itself be pressured by a community that seeks vengence. The criminal justice system in the America I know does not try incompetent defendants. This is the kind of justice that I expect in Texas or Florida, but not Washington.

  11. Sometimes it takes courage to enforce the rule of law especially in these emotionally charged times of neo-con harping and whining. Seems Judge Orlando just isn’t up to the task, subjecting an obviously demented defendant to the stern rigors of the criminal justice system. On occasions like this, I wonder if the adjective “criminal” refers more to the nature of the system than the persons it is designed to protect us against. I also wonder if the teaming masses of neo-cons would spew as much venom had the defendant been a young child, who in his/her fantasy world, had made a similar judgment error and killed a playmate. In both cases, neither defendant likely had the mental capacity to form the requisite intent necessary to commit the crime as most thinking people would conclude, but then again logical connections and extrapolations has never been the strong suit of our neo-con brothers, has it? Emotion plays much better in their simplistic view of the things.

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