Judge Hears Competency Issues In 1988 Casper Death Penalty Case
Defense attorneys representing a Casper man who was convicted for raping and murdering a woman nearly three decades ago are asking a judge to allow him to have a lawyer present during a mental competency evaluation.
Eaton previously appealed a death sentence to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case, but that appeal was denied. Because of that ruling, prosecutors again can ask for the death penalty.
Kansas City attorney Sean O'Brien said during a Friday hearing in Natrona County District Court that Eaton could wrongly be ruled competent without an attorney through such an examination. He said the mental health examiner might ask questions that would be harmful to Eaton.
"This is a man who is very paranoid," O'Brien said. "He may shut down."
O'Brien said the evaluation should occur in safe environment, where Eaton is at low risk for contracting COVID-19. Currently, Eaton is being housed at a Wyoming Department of Corrections facility in Torrington.
Assistant Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigen said allowing Eaton to have his attorney present during a competency evaluation would "not look like any other Wyoming defendant I've encountered."
"The state hospital has not stated how they feel about having someone in the room," Blonigen said.
He also said trying to predict the safest place for an evaluation to occur would put attorneys in the case on a "fool's errand."
It's also important that Eaton go to the Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston due to having better access to mental health workers, Blonigen said.
Natrona County District Court Judge Daniel Forgey took attorneys' arguments under advisement and did not issue a ruling at the end of Friday's hearing.