ST. HELENS, Ore. — Daniel Armaugh Butts is mentally impaired and is unfit to stand trial because he can’t assist in his defense, a judge ruled Wednesday, indefinitely delaying Butts’ trial in the 2011 shooting death of Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter.
The news was a setback for the Painter family and the district attorney, but does not signal the end of criminal proceedings against Butts. He’ll be sent to state mental hospital to be treated and forcibly medicated until he is fit to return to Columbia County for trial.
Butts’ “unabated irrational conduct” and his refusal to cooperate with his lawyers left no choice but to find him mentally unable to assist with his defense, Columbia County Circuit Court Judge Ted Grove said.
He noted Butts’ childlike behavior — which can be symptom of schizophrenia — and Butts’ focus on trivial matters such as whether he can smoke or have a cheeseburger while facing serious charges. Grove also noted Butts’ “bizarre or grotesque” grimaces and movements during the three days of mental competency hearings last week.
Grove acknowledged that psychiatrists disagree about whether Butts is impaired or faking symptoms, but he said the uncertainty lead to him to conclude treatment and medication are needed.
Several defense psychiatrists said Butts would improve with anti-psychotic medication, Grove noted. Butts has refused such medication, and Wednesday Grove ordered Butts to be forcibly medicated in hopes of answering the mental health question once and for all.
Several Painter relatives and friends attended Wednesday’s hearing, including his widow, Amy, and four of his six children. They said they were saddened but not overly surprised by the ruling.
“We see this as a temporary setback, but we’re still not giving up hope (of a criminal trial),” Painter’s daughter Julie Heuer said after the ruling. “Hopefully he can get treated and will be back here in a reasonable amount of time.”
“We were hoping to move forward today,” Amy Painter said. “Every now and then you think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and then it goes dark again.”
While Grove noted Butts’ infrequent speech, Amy Painter pointed out that Butts was able to berate his lawyers last week about wanting stun belts removed and asking for better food.
“He seemed able to make full sentences in court last week,” she said.
Painter’s stepson Jeremy Howell, a St. Helens police officer, said the ruling was “frustrating” but added he’d rather see Butts sent to trial correctly — even with delays — rather than have a conviction later overturned.
District Attorney Stephen Atchison said he stands behind his argument that Butts is faking mental illness or purposefully delaying the trial because he faces a possible death sentence and the evidence against him is compelling — there was an eyewitness to the Painter shooting.
“I feel that’s a reasonable interpretation of the facts,” Atchison said, adding state psychiatrists also failed to find Butts had any mental disorder. He added that delays like this can hurt criminal trials because witnesses may move away and memories fade.
Butts will be transferred to the state hospital in Salem as soon as possible for treatment and further evaluation, Atchison said. (see related story on B1). Atchison said this is the first time he’s had a defendant ruled unfit to stand trial.
Butts, 23, of Kalama, is charged with killing Painter on Jan. 5, 2011. The trial has been delayed several times as his mental condition was debated.
In January 2012, following an earlier mental competency hearing, Grove ruled that Butts was faking mental problems to avoid trial and a possible death penalty. The second hearing was ordered after Butts stabbed himself in the head with a pencil last year and then refused all medical treatment.
Grove said that refusing medical attention and the help of his lawyers — both to his detriment — also was evidence of Butts is impaired.