Attorneys returned to court to argue the next step in the case of a Washington man who stands accused of killing Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter in 2011.
Daniel Armaugh Butts was declared able to aid and assist in his defense, according to Columbia County Circuit Court documents that were dated July 3. On July 10, attorneys for the defense Patrick Sweeney and Dianna Gentry appeared before Judge Ted Grove to request more time for trial preparations – if the death penalty is to remain a factor in Butts’ trial.
Sweeney made the case that his client had only begun being properly treated and medicated for schizophrenia, adding that Butts now believes he is not facing the death penalty due to the complicated nature of the state’s moratorium on executions and how it was communicated to Butts during mental health evaluations.
“If death is on the table … we need a continuance,” Sweeney said. He said if the state was not going to pursue a capital case, the defense could proceed with the scheduled trial date of Feb. 5, 2019. However, Sweeney said more time would be necessary to prepare for Butts’ defense.
Sweeney said that while Butts was declared fit for trial, he was not declared fit to defend himself in a capital punishment case. He also said due to neurocognitive impairment, every aspect of Butts’ defense would be more time consuming, and that the timetable of less than a year before trial was too short.
“He’s cognitively much slower than the average person,” Sweeney said. He added that a five-year delay in Butts’ mental health treatment while he was shuffled between jail and the state hospital had caused permanent damage to his client. “We will not be prepared for a capital case,” he said.
District Attorney Jeff Auxier told the court that there was ample time for the state to prepare its case against Butts, requesting that Grove deny the continuance motion. Grove did not rule on the continuance request during the hearing and his decision is pending.
According to the July 3 ruling of mental fitness by Grove, there is no dispute that Butts suffers from schizophrenia, but his symptoms have greatly diminished as a result of hospitalization and forced medication. The ruling stated that Butts could clearly understand the trial process, identify plea options and the positive or negative aspects therein, and could clearly describe the events of the shooting and days preceding it.
“The issue that most troubles this court, and that the parties focus their main disagreement as to, is the defendant’s belief that a jury will accept his justification for shooting the decedent,” Grove wrote. “[Butts] has continued to hold the belief that there is a 100-percent chance that a jury will accept the shooting as justified.”
Grove called that a completely unrealistic proposition. He said when pressured, Butts concedes that a jury may convict him, and if that occurred, that he could face the death penalty. The ruling said defense attorneys understandably attribute Butts’ belief in acquittal to his schizophrenia, while the prosecution contends it to be “a product of criminal thinking or unrealistic optimism.”
“This court having presided over many serious criminal proceedings is aware that persons facing severe punitive sanctions regularly minimize the seriousness of their criminal exposure, especially when trial is not imminent,” Grove wrote. “This phenomenon occurs even when no mental health issues are noted.”
According to the ruling, the judge found that Butts’ schizophrenia did not drive his acceptance of a potentially weak legal defense, noting that a not-guilty verdict was Butts’ only hope for freedom, and that a guilty except for insanity plea would likely result in a lifetime of institutional commitment.
“The defendant has acknowledged that he is satisfied with the efforts of his attorneys and will likely follow their guidance,” Grove wrote. “For these reasons, the Court finds the defendant currently able to aid and assist in his defense.”
Butts allegedly killed Painter on Jan. 5, 2011, during a fight that ensued when the police chief responded to a reported car theft in progress at a Rainier stereo store. Butts was accused of shooting Painter with the chief's pistol. He was arrested following a brief standoff and shootout with multiple law enforcement agencies.
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