Leonard to stand trial for shootingBut mental health remains at issue for the liveaboard.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:44 PM
"Prosecutors will try for a third time to prosecute Ralph Leonard of Bainbridge Island for allegedly shooting at a police officer in 1998, now that a psychiatrist at Western State Hospital has found Leonard competent to stand trial. But the attorney for the former Eagle Harbor liveaboard wonders whether the competency finding - which is subject to challenge - was driven by the need to reduce the population at an earthquake-damaged state hospital building in Tacoma.I don't think the timing is entirely coincidental, said Tim Kelly of Port Orchard, Leonard's appointed public defender.The 64-year-old Leonard has been in the Kitsap County Jail since March 12, county prosecutor Russ Hauge said, although the move was just disclosed to Bainbridge Police this week. Leonard is charged with an array of offenses, the most serious being attempted murder for allegedly shooting at Bainbridge Police Lt. Scott Weiss. His trial is scheduled for April 30.Leonard's release from the hospital followed a psychiatric evaluation from Dr. Daisuke Nakashima that said Leonard's mental condition was much improved, and that he was competent to stand trial. The hospital notified Hauge's office, which refiled the charges and took custody of Leonard.We received word that the hospital was going to release him or place him in a less restrictive setting, where he would be able to go out into the community, so we refiled charges, Hauge said. He was transferred directly to the jail, and was never released into the community.It marks the third time Leonard has faced charges stemming from the 1998 shooting incident. At that time he was an Eagle Harbor liveaboard, and police received complaints from other boat-dwellers about harassment. When they went to Leonard's boat, which had been moved to Blakely Harbor, Leonard allegedly fired a shotgun at officers, grazing Weiss.Leonard's arrest began a lengthy legal merry-go-round. He was originally found incompetent to stand trial - doctors cited acute paranoia and hostility around police at that time - and was sent to Western State Hospital for confinement and evaluation.Once there, he underwent a civil commitment process. That confidential proceeding resulted in Leonard's being released in September 1999.County prosecutors then refiled charges, and Leonard was re-arrested in December 1999 when he went to the Bainbridge Island police station to reclaim items that police had taken as evidence in 1998.But for a second time, Judge Jay Roof found Leonard not competent to stand trial and ordered him taken to Western State, where he was held until last month.Kelly said he will challenge the hospital's finding that Leonard is competent.The next step is to get a court order to authorize money to pay for our own psychiatric evaluation, he said. If that doctor disagrees with Nakashima, then the court will have to decide.Mental healthKelly said he is troubled by earlier psychiatric evaluations at Western State showing that Leonard suffered permanent memory impairment from organic brain damage.That's not something that gets better, he said.Kelly said he has not yet made up his own mind about whether Leonard is capable of participating in his defense.He actually seems to be doing quite well, Kelly said. They've taken good care of him. But I won't have an opinion until I've talked to him a few times. It could be problematic if he can't remember testimony.If Leonard is found competent to stand trial today, that would not preclude a plea of innocent by reason of insanity at the time of the incident, Kelly said.Prosecutors fear that what they call a hole in the law may allow Leonard to escape prosecution altogether, and they are running out of time to dodge that result.The problem is that the standards for competency to stand trial and for involuntary commitment to a state mental hospital are somewhat different.According to Hauge, a suspect is considered competent if he understands his predicament and can aid in the defense, communicate rationally with his attorney. The standard for forced commitment, though, is whether the person poses a danger to himself or others.If someone is found not competent to stand trial, but the hospital finds they are not a danger to themselves or others, they walk, Hauge said.Hauge said it is rare for anyone to do what Leonard has done twice - be declared incompetent to stand trial but not sufficiently dangerous to require continued confinement.It usually happens in a case of shoplifting or something like that, he said. It does not happen often with someone who has committed a violent crime, but when it does, it's a serious situation.The difficulty is compounded by the fact that the prosecutor's time-clock is running out.Under Washington's speedy-trial law, prosecutors must bring an accused to trial within 60 days. That period of time is cumulative - the clock does not restart with each arrest. So whenever Leonard is arrested, the interval between the arrest and the competency hearing counts against the 60-day total.We have about 30 days left, Hauge said. I expect the competency issue to be resolved in advance of the trial date. But if we ran right up until then, our time would be gone.If the 60 days does expire, Hauge said, it is possible that prosecutors would be barred from taking further action against Leonard.We would need the court of appeals to tell us, but it is possible that we could not re-arrest him, Hauge said. "