Wednesday, November 15, 2006

State concedes accused murderer not competent

Park faces commitment to state mental facility

Express Staff Writer

Harley R. Park

The state of Idaho has conceded that Harley R. Park, the man accused of brutally beating a prominent Camas County businessman to death more than three years ago, is not mentally competent to stand trial.

Fifth District Court Judge Robert J. Elgee agreed with that conclusion at a court hearing in Hailey Monday and ordered that steps be initiated to have Park committed to a state mental institution.

Park, now 28, has spent most of the last three years confined under temporary court orders to the Idaho Secure Mental Health Facility at the state prison complex near Boise. With doctors, the court, the prosecution and Park's defense attorney in agreement over his mental condition, he's likely to remain there under a more permanent court order.

Park has been charged with first-degree murder for the Sept. 3, 2003, beating death of 61-year-old Lynn Stevenson, the owner of the now-closed nine-hole Cottonwood Golf Course 12 miles north of Fairfield.

In a sworn affidavit, Camas County Sheriff Dave Sanders wrote that Park allegedly killed Stevenson by choking him and "repeatedly punching and kicking him in the head while wearing steel-toed work boots." Sanders further wrote that Park admitted to the beating and said he did it because Stevenson "was the devil; he was evil."

The death of Stevenson sent shock waves through the community of Fairfield, a small south-central Idaho town where Stevenson lived and was well known and well liked. Fairfield Mayor David Hanks said in October that the community is still not over the incident and is less willing to trust strangers since it happened.

Present at Monday's court hearing was Hailey attorney Douglas Nelson, who was appointed special public defender for Park by Camas County. Idaho Deputy Attorney Jay Rosenthal, who was appointed special prosecutor for the case, explained the state's conclusions via telephone hookup.

Rosenthal said that state doctors who have examined Park have concluded in their latest report that Park "is not competent, that he is not likely to be competent in the near or foreseeable future."

At least two private practice doctors have diagnosed Park as suffering from chronic paranoid schizophrenia.

As a matter of procedure, the murder charge against Park will be dismissed and a civil complaint will be filed for his commitment.

Elgee explained that a new criminal charge could be filed if doctors later determine that Park's condition has improved and he becomes competent to stand trial.

Nelson said the case will still be reviewed periodically, but that Park's condition is not likely to improve unless new medication is developed in the future.

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