ST.HELENS — For six hours Wednesday, the lead attorney for the man accused of gunning down Rainier’s police chief went back and forth with a forensic psychologist for the Oregon State Hospital over the mental competency of Daniel Butts.
When the session ended, the only thing certain was that Butts’ competency hearing will resume today at 10 a.m.
Butts was arrested on Jan. 5, minutes after he is alleged to have killed Police Chief Ralph Painter during a struggle at an audio shop in Rainier. Police say Butts wrested Painter’s gun away and then shot the chief in the head.
A Columbia County grand jury indicted Butts on nine counts of aggravated murder, which could carry the death penalty, and other charges including attempted aggravated murder, robbery, burglary, theft and unauthorized use of a vehicle.
The competency hearing is not to determine Butts’ mental state at the time of the shooting, but whether he is now able to aid and and assist in his defense during trial.
In the past year, Butts was evaluated several times both at the Columbia County Jail and at the state hospital in Salem, where he stayed for 20 days in July. At Wednesday’s hearing, he was seated to the left of his lawyers, Patrick Sweeney — his lead attorney — and Dianna Gentry. His hair has grown long and curly, and he now has a full beard; he was dressed in dingy, orange-striped prison garb.
Sitting on the bench was Columbia County Circuit Court Judge Ted Grove, who will determine if Butts can assist in his own defense and in the courtroom was Painter’s widow, Amy Painter. She was first in line to enter the courtroom, accompanied by other family members and at least one Rainier police officer.
There was a wide range of testimony, but some of the most interesting was the ongoing back and forth between Sweeney and forensic psychologist Brooke Howard of the Oregon State Hospital.
Howard was the first of four expert witnesses expected to testify but the only to take the stand Wednesday. Butts was in the state hospital from July 7 to July 27, where Howard observed him, met with him three times and interviewed him once. She also reviewed audio and videotapes made by detectives in the first hours and days after Painter’s killing.
Sweeney asked Howard to explain a mental disorder. Howard said that specific signs include not being able to function normally and added that psychotic symptoms can come from a medical condition, drug use or family history.
Howard also testified that delusions are false, fixated beliefs or irrational displays and said being catatonic is characterized by being out of touch, and showing disoriented behavior. Howard says Butts met none of those criteria.
Sweeney asked her if it’s true that a person who has a first-degree relative with schizophrenia is 10 times more likely to suffer from the disease. Howard said yes.
Sweeney then set forth a series of arguments about his client’s behavior leading up to, as he called it, “the incident.” He said Butts’ grades began slipping in his teens; that friends who saw him shortly before the shooting who hadn’t seen him in a year or more thought that he must be taking drugs because of his disheveled appearance. He also hammered home several points. Among them:
Butts behavior began to change in his late teens and early 20s, prime ages for the onset of schizophrenia; Butts suffered a head injury in a car crash at about the time his behavior changed; Butts was born prematurely and had low birth weight; his mother was taking lithium during her pregnancy and tested positive for marijuana; Butts could not get or hold a job from August 2009 up until the shooting.
Sweeney asked Howard if the fact that paramedics gave Butts benzodiazepine shortly after his arrest, a sedative, would affect her feeling that he does not suffer from a mental defect.
“The drug would not significantly change my perception of his interaction with detectives,” she said. “He was able to interact with police, and was not exhibiting schizophrenic behavior.”
After the hearing concludes, Grove could decide that Butts is competent to face trial, or he could send Butts to the state hospital for treatment, and then re-evaluated in the future.
Raw video from Daniel Butts’ court appearance Jan. 7, 2011 (KGW.com)
Rainier police chief killed, suspect wounded in shooting at stereo store (The Oregonian, 1/5/11)
Suspect Daniel Butts indicted in fatal shooting of Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter (The Oregonian, 1/21/11)
Court session for accused killer of Rainier police chief cancelled by Daniel Butts’ angry outburst (The Oregonian, 1/26/11)
State hospital won’t have room for Daniel Butts for several weeks (TDN.com, 2/18/11)
Rainier City Council appoints Sgt. Greg Griffith to replace Chief Ralph Painter (The Oregonian, 3/8/11)
Doctor travels to St. Helens to evaluate accused shooter of Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter (The Oregonian, 3/18/11)
Judge grants The Oregonian’s request to release mental health evaluation of Daniel Butts (The Oregonian, 6/22/11)
Family of fallen Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter unveils memorial stretch of U.S. 30 (The Oregonian, 10/24/11)