Monday, December 20, 2010

Judge rules Speight competent to stand trial in Appomattox slayings

A judge on Friday declared a man accused of killing eight people mentally fit to stand trial and appointed a public defender to represent him.

Appomattox Circuit Judge Richard Blanton accepted a state mental-health hospital's report stating that Christopher Speight, 41, is capable of understanding court proceedings and assisting his lawyers.

C.J. Covati of Roanoke, one of two attorneys hired by Speight shortly after his arrest Jan. 20, did not oppose the competency finding. He said Speight "still hears voices and has hallucinations, but they are not as intrusive" as they were before he was sent to Central State Hospital in June for mental-health treatment.

Speight was charged with three counts of capital murder after the shootings at the Appomattox house he shared with his sister and her family. He surrendered Jan. 20 after an 18-hour manhunt.

In court papers last spring, Speight's attorneys said he displayed "an overall agitated and fearful demeanor" in jail and that he talked about "being tortured by other entities that were battling over him, and he demanded the torture stop."

The former security guard was sent to a state mental hospital in June after a psychologist found him too mentally ill to assist his lawyers or stand trial.

Speight, handcuffed and shackled and dressed in a jail-issued orange jumpsuit, sat quietly through the 10-minute hearing, speaking only to confirm his identity and acknowledge that by requesting court-appointed counsel he was waiving his right to a speedy trial.

The capital public defender, David P. Baugh of Richmond, will be allowed to choose another lawyer or lawyers to help with the case. Covati and Neil Horn of Roanoke have been representing Speight and are the likely choices, but Blanton said he never has allowed the capital defender to bring in more than one other attorney. The defense attorneys all declined to comment after the hearing.

The case was continued to Jan. 4, when a trial date is expected to be set. Appomattox Commonwealth's Attorney Darrel W. Puckett said the appointment of the public defender won't slow the process but the trial still won't be anytime soon.

"There's lots of stuff that has to happen on both sides," he said after the hearing.

Speight was arrested Jan. 20 after an overnight standoff with authorities at the home he shared with his sister, her husband and their two children. Those family members were among the victims. Two neighbors, their teenage daughter and a teenage boy also were killed.

Speight also is accused of firing at a state police helicopter, resulting in a charge of attempted capital murder of a police officer.


Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch

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