Abbott case proceeds with mental competency questions

Judge to decide whether to order mental health examination in trial

Posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2008

SITKA - A judge said he will decide by the end of this week whether to order a mental health expert to examine Jason Abbott's mental competency to stand trial.

The Associated Press File
The Associated Press File

Abbott, 19, is accused of committing one of Southeast Alaska's most brutal crimes in recent history. Police said Abbott went on a stabbing rampage at his grandparents house in March, killing his grandfather, grandmother, aunt and her boyfriend. Abbott also is accused of trying to stab another aunt to death.

Arrested moments after the alleged stabbings occurred, Abbott has spent more than four months in prison, first in Anchorage and now at the Lemon Creek Correctional Center, according to the Department of Corrections.

Shortly after his arrest, police said Abbott told them the "Lord made me murder them."

And while in prison, Abbott told a friend on a recorded telephone line that he was planning on "taking the insanity plea ... (and) will get off in three years," according to court records.

Days before his arrest for the alleged stabbings, Abbott shaved his head and eyebrows and was arrested on the charge of assaulting his mother. Police said Abbott became enraged at his mother for having orange and red colored objects in her house.

Court records show no indication of any mental evaluation of Abbott in his court records since his arrest.

Appearing by phone at a pretrial hearing Monday in Sitka Superior Court, Abbott's attorney, Marcy McDannel, said the mental health expert she had hired to determine if Abbott was competent enough to stand trial had become sick and couldn't be reached.

McDannel added that the mental health expert had not returned "thousands" of pages of documents and other materials relating to Abbott's medical and psychiatric health evaluation.

Sitka Superior Court Judge David George indicated that he thought the court should order a competency evaluation because of concerns McDannel had voiced in court filings.

McDannel asked the court for more time to have her own evaluation done. Prosecuting attorney Dwayne McConnell, also appearing by phone, indicated he didn't mind waiting for McDannel to obtain an examination of Abbott's mental competency.

Both attorneys said they thought Abbott was competent to stand trial.

George said he would examine the law and make a ruling regarding a court-ordered exam by the end of the week.

Last month, George rejected a request from the district attorney's office for an independent psychiatric exam of Abbott.

George ruled the state's request was premature and it could ask for such an exam if the defense gives notice that it will raise Abbott's mental state as an issue in the trial.

It's unclear if McDannel will choose to pursue a defense strategy based on Abbott's mental health.

"This is a complicated case dealing with complicated mental issues," she said at Monday's hearing. "I think it's best for the record that we have proceeded with the utmost caution in protecting Mr. Abbott's rights."

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or e-mail

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