Teen's fitness for trial to be argued again

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

An attorney representing a Loogootee teen charged with murdering a neighbor couple last fall will ask the court to again consider whether the teen is fit to stand trial.

At a hearing last Thursday in Fayette County Circuit Court, Monroe McWard of Taylorville announced that during an examination of Clifford Baker, a psychologist “went beyond what was needed.
"She came to the opinion that, (No.) 1, my client did not knowingly or voluntarily gave a confession, and (No.) 2, that she does not feel he is fit to stand trial,” McWard told Judge Michael McHaney.
Baker is charged with first-degree murder and home invasion for allegedly fatally shooting Mike Mahon and Deb Tish in their home in the early morning hours of August 4. Baker, who is now 16, is being tried as an adult.
McWard told McHaney that he was unsure at that time how the psychologist reached her conclusions, and whether she is qualified to make those determinations. The issue was to be covered during a hearing later this week.
Also during the hearing, McWard asked for additional funds for a forensic pharmacologist being used by the defense team.
The court approved $7,500 of county funds for the pharmacologist, and McWard said that his fee had exceeded that amount. In reporting that the fees for that expert witness now stood at $9,968.75, McWard asked for an additional $7,500 “to get us through the trial.”
Fayette County State’s Attorney Stephen Friedel objected to the additional money for the defense witness. He said the request for additional funds “is just outrageously overboard.
"The defense should not be given an open checkbook for an expert witness who will say what they want.
“(The defense) is entitled to a reasonable amount,” Friedel said. “We’re getting beyond reasonable.”
Friedel argued that a defendant who has been termed as indigent has hired private counsel. “If the court doesn’t pay, does the defense (have the money to pay)? I think there’s a question of his indigency,” he said.
As he considered the matter, McHaney leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed and stared at the ceiling.
Before he had a chance to rule on the matter, McWard said the pharmacologist’s role in the defense case is vital because a toxicity screening on blood drawn from Baker on the morning of the murder was not completed, and his blood sample was destroyed.
“This is one of the main things that Dr. (Robert) Lipman had to look at,” McWard said. “He had to go back and ask for urine samples.
“For crying out loud, why would you destroy all of this kid’s blood samples before all of the tests were completed?” McWard said.
In ruling, McWard said, “To some extent, the court is boxed into a corner.
“The court has said repeatedly that it is the gatekeeper of the county’s funds, and has made an effort to see that the defendant is not given an open checkbook,” he said.
“The defendant is entitled to a fair trial,” McHaney said. “For me to deny your request is basically denying him (Baker) of a (defense).”
That, the judge said, would likely result in “a reversal in about 10 seconds” in appellate court.
Friedel said that “every trial judge is put in the same box,” and argued that the court should set an amount for Lipman “and tell him, that’s what you’re going to be paid.”
“That’s a good argument,” McHaney said. “There’s got to be a limit. He’s not going to hold us hostage.
“You tell him he’s got $2,500 to supplement his report and to testify (at trial),” McHaney said.
The jury trial for Baker is still set to begin on Tuesday, May 31, with the selection of jurors. Baker remains held in the Madison County Juvenile Detention Center in lieu of $2 million bond.