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Judge hears testimony from psychologists, experts about health of murder suspect

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Daniel Butts (left) appears in court Wednesday seated next his attorneys, Dianna Gentry and Patrick Sweeney. Behind him are two Columbia County Sheriffs Office deputies.Daniel Butts, the man accused of murdering Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter in 2011, appeared in Columbia County Circuit Court earlier this week for hearings to determine whether the suspect is mentally fit to stand trial.

Butts, who has been in custody since 2011, has been receiving treatment at Oregon State Hospital.

In addition to being the defendant in a capital murder case, he's been at the center of a years-long legal battle over whether his mental health is sufficient for him to aid and assist in his own trial.

Doctors say he exhibits symptoms of schizophrenia, and has told medical staff members at OSH that he "hears voices."

After hearing expert testimony and reviewing psychological evaluations, a court ruled in March 2013 that Butts was unfit to stand trial. The following year, Columbia Circuit Judge Ted Grove ordered Butts to be medicated with antipsychotic drugs, whether he complied or not.

During testimony and cross-examination of an OSH doctor and forensic evaluator Tuesday, Butts' defense team questioned whether the 28-year-old had an adequately clear grasp on reality to fully appreciate the charges he faces.

Dianna Gentry, an attorney representing Butts, pointed to reports of Butts saying there's "no way" he could be found guilty of intentionally killing Painter, and indicating he fully expected to be released from the state hospital eventually.

Gentry suggested that fact, in itself, calls his mental fitness into question, and casts doubt on whether he'd be willing to plead guilty by reason of insanity.

"He says he's got a 100 percent chance of being found not guilty, and the facts are that he's charged with a capital offense, murdering a police officer..." Gentry said in court Tuesday. "As his attorney, how do I get him to plead guilty except insanity if he's not guilty?"

Terri Fernandez-Tyson, a forensic evaluator who interviewed Butts at OSH, classified his behavior as "wishful thinking," noting unrealistic optimism isn't uncommon among incarcerated suspects.

But Gentry pressed for a deeper explanation, asking the OSH evaluator if she unpacked those statements, and whether Butts is actually exhibiting reason and logic.

"When he tells you that he's going to go to trial ... don't you think it's important to explore more of the facts of the case with him?" Gentry asked the witness.

"To me, that's the role of defense counsel in providing him that advice," Fernandez-Tyson replied.

Butts sat in court next to his defense attorneys in a dress shirt Tuesday. The following day, he wore a suit jacket.

Experts testified in court that Butts was virtually unresponsive when he first arrived at the state hospital, but has shown improvement over the years.

"His symptoms were quite severe when he arrived," Dr. James Peykanu testified Tuesday afternoon.

"He would often sit awake in his bed for hours at a time. ... He's had a hard time explaining a lot of things to me, but he has disclosed to me that he has heard voices."

Peykanu said Butts has recently been observed interacting with other patients and has even been observed laughing at times.

"Over the course of time that we've been working with him, he's become much more attached to reality and the people around him," Peykanu said.

Hearings continued Thursday.

Butts, who wrested Painter's service weapon from him and shot and killed the police chief, faces the death penalty if convicted.

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