Competency evaluation ordered for defendant in truck driver killing

Court proceedings in the first-degree murder trial of a woman accused of killing a Jasper County truck driver in September at an Interstate 80 rest stop, have been suspended pending the outcome of a competency hearing for the defendant.Judge Andrew Chappell made his decision Friday, Dec. 1, in Iowa County District Court, days after Mariana Lesnic requested that she represent herself at her upcoming trial and attorneys representing her raised doubts about her competency.Lesnic is charged in connection with the Sept. 6 shooting death of 60-year-old Ernest Kummer, Monroe. She has pleaded not guilty and remains at the Iowa County Jail in Marengo under $1 million bond. Her trial was set to begin Jan. 23.In a handwritten letter to the court, Lesnic requested that public defender Peter Persaud and his assistants be taken off the case. “I request to take the lawer (sic) I have at the present moment, Peter (Persaud) and all of his assistant of (sic) my case please,” she wrote in the letter, filed Nov. 13. “The reason I ask to remove them of (sic) my case is because I am unhappy with them, him. I don’t like the plans he made to defend me. I want to represent myself.”Attorney Eric Tindal has been appointed to counsel Lesnic on her motion to represent herself.
In his comments to the court, he stated that while he does not possess the training to evaluate for mental competency, he had worked with people with mental health issues before, and stated he had serious concerns about Lesnic’s ability to represent herself and assist in her defense.Tindal further explained he had met with Lesnic several times about the case and noted that while she presented herself as an “intelligent and articulate individual,” she also had “steadfastly” refused to discuss even basic aspects of the case.In an earlier response to the court, Persaud noted that while the Sixth and 14th Amendments allow a defendant the right to self-representation in court, the defendant’s right is limited by his or her competency, citing Indiana v. Edwards. He added that if a defendant is determined to be competent to waive the right of counsel, the court must conduct a colloquy that includes the defendant’s understanding of the nature of the charges, the statutory offenses included therein, the range of possible punishments, possible defenses to the charges, circumstances in mitigation of the charges, all other facts for a general understanding of the matter and existence of rules governing the proceedings and the fact that he or she will be held to those rules. An explanation of the benefits and usefulness of counsel in the proceedings, difficulties associated with self-representation and danger of proceeding without counsel must also be included.Chappell agreed with Tindal’s motion, ordering a psychiatric evaluation to determine if Lesnic is suffering from a mental disorder that would make her unable to stand trial, and whether she would be able to represent herself. The evaluation will take place as soon as possible at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center.Further proceedings on the defendant’s competency would be scheduled after the evaluation is completed. In the interim, Chappell stated, “all further proceedings in this matter are suspended under further order from the court,” and that Tindal’s appointment is ongoing.

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