A 66-year-old man was court-ordered to be evaluated for mental competency before entering a guilty plea for sexually abusing a minor.
Assistant Public Defender Eric Hedland made the request for his client, John W. Strickling, during a scheduled ‘change of plea’ hearing last week in Juneau Superior Court before Judge Louis Menendez.
Hedland said he felt he had no choice but to make the request after learning the Department of Corrections assessed Strickling and found he was not competent enough to sign a “Do Not Resuscitate” medical form. Strickling has serious heart problems and is very ill, Hedland said.
A mental health clinician at the jail in her evaluation said Lemon Creek Correctional Center would not accept Strickling’s consent to sign the form given his mental health problems, which include persistent delusions with pervading religious themes. A DOC licensed psychiatrist also found him not competent to sign the form, Hedland said.
“If that’s the DOC’s position regarding that, I think that it would sort of be bad practice for me to ignore that when the court’s going to try to take a knowing and voluntary plea from him,” Hedland said.
Hedland requested Strickling be evaluated at Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage to see if he is competent. Legally speaking, that means determining whether Strickling understands the legal proceedings, including what the charges against him are, and if he is capable of assisting in his own defense. The court requires a defendant be found competent before entering a guilty plea.
Menendez granted the request, which went unopposed from the state. A hearing will be held in May to update the court on the evaluation.
Strickling was arrested in Nome after a grand jury in Juneau indicted him in September. He is charged with five felony counts of sexual abuse of a minor for abusing a child he knew under 13 years old. According to charging documents, the abuse continued for years before the victim reported it to her mother, who then reported it to police in 2011.
An affidavit filed by prosecutors states that Strickling made admissions of guilt when interviewed by police, and Hedland said earlier a plea deal had been reached in the case.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.