The Edmond Sun

July 26, 2013

Court: Homicide defendant will assert insanity defense in August

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — A homicide defendant who told investigators he believed the victim and his mother were trying to kill him intends to assert an insanity defense, court records show.

On May 18, 2012, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater charged Ronald Vincent Sparks, of Edmond, with one count of first-degree murder in the death of Bernice Daugherty, 89. Prosecutors allege Sparks choked the victim and held her head under water in a bathtub, causing her death on May 12, 2012.

In court, Sparks entered a plea of not guilty. Assistant Public Defender Matthew Sears, his legal counsel, did not reply to a message seeking comment.

Earlier this month, the defendant appeared in court in person with Sears. The state presented its case in chief. Witnesses were sworn, testimony was heard and evidence was presented. The defendant’s motion to have the charge dismissed due to lack of evidence was overruled and probable cause was found.

On Aug. 14, the defendant is scheduled to appear for a pre-trial conference in the court of Oklahoma County District Judge Cindy Truong.



CASE BACKGROUND

At about 3:30 p.m. May 12, 2012, Edmond Police Detective Matt Terry was dispatched to 1000 E. Edwards in reference to a possible drowning, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Terry in Oklahoma County District Court.

Earlier that day, Sparks called 911 and said he had found the victim in a bathtub full of water, Terry stated. She was unresponsive and he was told to take her out of the bathtub and start CPR, the affidavit stated.

First responders detected a wound on the top of the victim’s left hand, and her clothes were soaked from the water in the bathtub, Terry stated. The victim was pronounced dead at 3:41 p.m., the affidavit stated.

After agreeing to voluntarily go to the police station, during an interview with Terry, the defendant purportedly said his mother and the victim, identified in the affidavit as his aunt, were planning on killing him and he thought they had put something in his morning coffee, the affidavit stated.



LEGAL DEFINITIONS

According to the Oklahoma Uniform Jury Instructions including 2012 supplements “competent” or “competency” means the present ability of a person to understand the nature of the charges and proceedings and to effectively and rationally assist in their defense.

“Incompetent” or “incompetency” simply means any person who is not presently competent.

The definition of “dangerous” is more complex, and involves six elements such as they pose a substantial risk of immediate physical harm to themselves or to others.



THE QUESTION

OF COMPETENCY

On July 16, the defendant notified the court about his intent to assert an insanity, mental defect defense, according to court records.

Oklahoma City attorney Irven Box, whose résumé includes several of the few successful insanity defense cases in the state, said asserting such a defense is a challenging matter. Issues include if a defendant is presently competent and if they were competent at the time of the alleged offense, Box said.

“It’s a tough road for a defense attorney to show that a client was temporarily insane at the time,” said Box, who happened to be in the court room during a recent hearing involving Sparks.

Issues involved in an insanity defense include a defendant’s ability to rationally assist in their defense, their mental health history before the alleged offense and their treatment following the alleged offense, Box said.

In March, a hearing was held regarding the defendant’s application for determination of competency.

The findings of Dr. Peter Rausch, Ph.D., were presented in a document that is part of the public record.

On Aug. 7, 2012, per the findings, the defendant was able to appreciate the nature of the charges made against him, but he was not able to consult with his lawyer and rationally assist in the preparation of the defense and he was not able to assist counsel due to his experiencing psychiatric symptoms involving paranoid delusions. At the time, the court ruled the defendant, if released, would have been dangerous as defined by state law (Section 1175.1).

Rausch stated that with treatment it was likely the defendant would regain competency.

In January 2013, Rausch reported, Sparks was able to appreciate the nature of the charges against him, he was able to consult with his lawyer and he was able to rationally assist in the preparation of his defense. He was currently receiving treatment for a major mental illness.

Truong ruled the defendant was competent to stand trial.



marks@edmondsun.com | 341-2121, ext. 108