Judge upholds insanity rules

Murder suspect considers options

— Two motions filed by the attorney representing accused murderer Thomas Lee Johnson that question aspects of the state's insanity defense laws have been denied.

Fourteenth District Judge Joel S. Thompson issued a written ruling on the constitutionality of a state statute that takes effect when a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity is entered or a defense attorney wants to introduce mental condition testimony during a trial.

Thompson also denied defense attorney Norm Townsend's motion to preserve his client's constitutional right during a psychiatric evaluation.

Johnson is accused of stabbing to death 31-year-old Lori Bases last May in her Steamboat Springs apartment. He has been charged with first-degree murder.

Townsend filed the motions because he believes the statute dealing with criminal insanity is unconstitutional because it infringes on his client's Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

In order to plead insanity or be able to introduce mental condition testimony, Johnson would have to submit to a psychiatric evaluation at the state mental hospital in Pueblo. The statute requires a defendant to cooperate with that evaluation. If a defendant does not cooperate, an insanity plea cannot be entered and mental condition testimony cannot be introduced during a trial.

"If you introduce any evidence on sanity, you give up your right to remain silent," Townsend had argued before Judge Thompson.

In addition, the defense attorney reminded the court, any statement made by a defendant during an evaluation can be used by a prosecutor during trial and at sentencing.

Townsend was concerned that if his client pleads insanity to a charge of first-degree murder or wants to enter mental condition testimony, Johnson will be asked about details of the death of Bases.

"I would ask the court to rule that if my client invokes his Fifth Amendment right when asked about details of the case, it is not considered noncooperation," Townsend said.

Thompson did not rule as Townsend asked.

"It is not the function of the court to overturn statutes presumably valid on the strength of the speculation and conjecture of counsel as to what might happen," Thompson stated in his written ruling.

Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James had argued against the motions.

"There is nothing in the Constitution that says you have a right to plead not guilty by reason of insanity," St. James said. "If a person is going to enter an insanity plea, they have to abide by the rules. If he does not want to live by those rules, don't raise the insanity defense."

Johnson will be asked to formally enter a plea to the murder charge during an arraignment scheduled for May 18.

He also will be asked to enter pleas to first-degree criminal trespass and criminal mischief. Those charges stem from vandalism of Bases' sports utility vehicle that occurred a few weeks before she was killed.

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