Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Accused murderer faces competency hearing

Suspect diagnosed as mentally ill since 2003 Camas County slaying

Express Staff Writer

Harley Park

In 2003, a prominent Camas County businessman was brutally beaten to death at a golf course he owned north of Fairfield.

Now, more than three years later, the man accused of killing 61-year-old Lynn Stevenson faces a court hearing next month in Hailey to determine if he's mentally fit to stand trial for first-degree murder, or if he should be permanently committed to a mental institution.

Harley R. Park, now 28, has spent most of the last three years in a mental facility at the Idaho state prison complex near Boise. In several previous court hearings, mental health experts have testified that Park is not mentally competent.

Presiding 5th District Court Judge Robert Elgee, who serves both Blaine and Camas counties, ruled last January that Park is "dangerously mentally ill" and "lacks the capacity to understand the proceedings against him and to assist with his own defense."

The case against Park dates back to the afternoon of Sept. 3, 2003. In a sworn affidavit, Camas County Sheriff Dave Sanders wrote that Park allegedly killed Stevenson at the Cottonwood Golf Course by choking him and "repeatedly punching and kicking him in the head while wearing steel-toed work boots."

Sanders wrote that Park admitted to the beating, and said that he did it because Stevenson "was the devil; he was evil."

According to court records, Park, who had drifted into the Fairfield area several days earlier, was staying at the golf course, where Stevenson had offered him a job.

Sanders wrote in his affidavit that Park found a bone in a window at the golf course clubhouse, thought it was a human bone and told Sanders that he believed "Lynn Stevenson intended to kill him."

Stevenson's death had a startling and profound effect on the residents of the small south central Idaho town of Fairfield, where Stevenson lived and was well known. Even today, the community is less willing to trust strangers than it did before Stevenson was killed, said Fairfield Mayor David Hanks.

"It absolutely sent shock waves through the community," Hanks said. "It took our community's breath away."

Stevenson was active in community affairs. He designed and developed the nine-hole Cottonwood Golf Course, located 12 miles north of Fairfield. He was a helicopter and airplane pilot and the former manager of the Gooding Airport. He had farmed and built an ethanol plant near Bliss and had owned and operated the Kirby Dam near Atlanta.

"He was a good man," said Hanks. "He was good to the people of our community. It's just tragic that this had to happen."

Hanks said Stevenson had planned to develop Cottonwood, which is now closed, into an 18-hole golf course.

Meanwhile, Park has spent most of the last three years at the Idaho Secure Mental Health Facility.

At least two experts have diagnosed Park as suffering from chronic paranoid schizophrenia.

"I was unable to get him to respond in an organized manner," wrote Twin Falls psychiatrist Dr. Richard H. Worst in a March 19, 2006, letter to the court. "He was rambling, tangential, disoriented and at times appeared moderately delusional throughout the entire interview."

Twin Falls Dr. G. Adrian Dean wrote in a Nov. 14, 2005, letter that Park's "concrete way of thinking means he sees himself as right, good and innocent and that everyone else is wrong, evil and guilty."

"It is my opinion that Mr. Park should be considered extremely dangerous and a very high risk for repeated violence if given the opportunity" Dean wrote.

Idaho Deputy Attorney General Jay F. Rosenthal, who was appointed special prosecutor for the case, said that Park has a history of mental illness and was previously committed to a mental institution in New York state.

"There is no question that Harley Park suffers through a mental disorder," Rosenthal said. "It's just a question of whether we can get him to a point that meets the constitutional requirements. You can't deal with someone who can't understand what's going on. We have, at times, through medication, got him to a point that he acted competent."

Park's capacity to stand trial will be determined at a hearing set for 3 p.m. Nov 13 at 5th District Court in Hailey. Mental health experts on the state's and Park's behalf will testify on their latest conclusions about his mental competency.

Rosenthal explained that Idaho law requires that a permanent determination be made.

"You can examine him so many times, and then someone has to fish or cut bait," Rosenthal said. "If the shrinks say that he's fit, then Doug has a right to challenge that."

Rosenthal was referring to Hailey attorney Douglas Nelson, who was appointed public defender for Park.

Nelson said that if the court determines Park is not fit to stand trial, then Park would likely be committed permanently to a mental institution.

"It's better for my client to be in a mental institution than a prison, but it's really up to the doctors to determine what his competency level is," Nelson said.

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