Judge: Defendant competent to stand trial in 1999 Modesto beating and child sex assault case

03/13/2014 5:39 PM

03/13/2014 10:48 PM

Two forensic psychologists on Thursday testified that a man accused of attempted murder and rape in Modesto was faking symptoms of a mental disorder.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff ruled that defendant Pedro Vicente Aguirre is mentally competent to stand trial and reinstated his case. The court has suspended Aguirre’s case three times after the defendant’s mental health came into question.

Zeff scheduled Aguirre’s trial to start Nov. 3. The defendant remains in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail.

Aguirre is accused of beating a Modesto couple before kidnapping and raping their 3-year-old daughter 14 years ago. In previous hearings, the defendant has created disruptions in the courtroom, speaking loudly and incoherently. Zeff has twice removed Aguirre from the courtroom.

In May, a jury found Aguirre competent to stand trial, but his mental health came into question again a month later. The defendant did not create any disruptions during his third mental competency trial. A jury has decided he is competent to stand trial, and Zeff for the second time now has agreed.

Aguirre sat quietly in the courtroom as the two psychologists from Napa State Hospital explained why they believe the defendant was feigning incompetency. The defendant was sent to the facility to restore his competency in late October.

Todd Schirmer, one of the psychologists, said he believes Aguirre was malingering to gain some benefit, for instance avoiding trial on serious charges. He said Aguirre refused to cooperate during evaluation at the hospital, which is a factor in malingering.

He said in court that Aguirre demonstrated a pattern of disorganized and bizarre behavior, almost aggressive, when he was aware that clinical staff were observing him and when they tried to conduct malingering and mental status tests. His behavior was normal when he didn’t know someone was observing him.

Schirmer’s interviews with Aguirre lasted only a few minutes, because Aguirre interrupted his questioning, walked away or would stand and yell, disrupting the meeting. The psychologist testified there is no indication Aguirre has cognitive difficulties.

“It is my opinion that he is competent to stand trial,” Schirmer testified.

The defendant was at the state hospital for six weeks, and he was interviewed by clinical staff about two hours each week. He was observed by staff an additional two hours each week.

Julia Whitacre, the other psychologist who evaluated Aguirre, said he spoke coherently and didn’t exhibit any bizarre behavior when he interacted with other patients at the hospital. When he knew staff was watching him, he was seen eating leaves in the courtyard. During one group meeting, Aguirre bounced around the room waving his arms.

Once the questions moved to his case and his charges, Whitacre said Aguirre would become uncooperative with her and refuse to answer questions. He once responded to her by saying, “Why are you talking to me like a DA? Why are you questioning me like a DA?” Whitacre testified that showed her he had some understanding of the court procedures and the roles of court officials.

She said they ruled out that Aguirre was suffering from a psychotic disorder. Whitacre testified that Aguirre did exhibit some symptoms, but “I did not believe them to be true.”

Peter Stavrianoudakis, Aguirre’s attorney, has argued in court that his client suffers from mental illness and is not able to communicate coherently and assist in his defense.

Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees has said in court that a forensic psychologist has examined Aguirre and found no indication the defendant suffers from a severe mental disorder.

Aguirre is charged with two counts of attempted murder, forcible aggravated sexual assault of a minor, kidnapping to commit rape, committing a forcible lewd act on a child younger than 14, burglary and child endangerment.

The child endangerment charge stems from the fact that the couple’s 7-year-old boy was in the home when the attack on his parents occurred.

In a May 2012 preliminary hearing, the prosecutor said Aguirre forced his way into the family’s home in the 1600 block of Imperial Avenue about 8 a.m. Oct. 24, 1999.

Rees argued that Aguirre beat the 34-year-old father and 26-year-old mother with a tire iron before grabbing their daughter and running away. The girl was sexually assaulted in a nearby orchard, authorities have testified, and two witnesses stopped the assault and chased away the assailant.

The parents later were released from the hospital after being treated for major blunt-force head trauma. The girl required surgery.

Stavrianoudakis argued in the preliminary hearing that the prosecution presented conflicting testimony linking his client to the attack, the kidnapping and the sexual assault.

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