By Jeff Lehr
A Jasper County judge on Friday ordered that 15-year-old Thomas White undergo an examination to determine whether he has the mental competency to assist in his own defense.
White’s public defenders had asked for the examination in light of recent evaluations of their client by a doctor and a psychologist suggesting that an extended jail stay was wearing on the boy’s mental health and that the teen might be schizophrenic.
The prosecutor’s office raised no objection to the request at a hearing Friday in Circuit Judge David Mouton’s courtroom before the judge’s ruling. Mouton subsequently ordered that White undergo an examination for mental competency at the Western Missouri Mental Health Center in Kansas City. He asked Assistant Prosecutor John Nicholas to see to arrangements for his transfer there as soon as possible.
But the judge turned down a defense request that White be released from jail on a cash bond and placed on house arrest while awaiting trial on five felony counts stemming from an assault-rifle-related case Oct. 9, 2006, at Memorial Middle School in Joplin.
Mouton said he’d reviewed the reports of Dr. Stephen Peterson, of St. Louis, and Joplin psychologist Kevin Whisman who have evaluated the boy at the request of White’s public defenders, Brett Meeker and James Egan.
“I do not find that either one of the reports support the request in this motion,” the judge told them.
Mouton said one of the consulting doctors clearly recommends that the boy remain in custody in a locked ward of a psychiatric hospital. The judge commented that it seemed to him the public defenders were wanting to “have it both ways.” He said they could not “pick and choose” among their own evaluators’ opinions to support both a mental-competency exam for their client and his release from jail.
White has been held in segregation at the Jasper County Jail on $250,000 bond since being certified to stand trial as an adult in December 2006. Possible trial dates of Dec. 8-10 and Jan. 5-7 have been set in the case.
The boy is accused of taking the assault rifle to his school, threatening faculty and other students with it, and then firing it into the ceiling of a school hallway. He also is accused of trying to shoot the principal as he was ushering him out of the building. He is facing two counts of first-degree assault and single counts of armed criminal action, unlawful use of a weapon and attempted escape.
Meeker and Egan asked the judge to consider allowing a cash-bond arrangement for their client so that he might be released on house arrest.
Egan told the judge they were not asking that he be allowed to return home to his mother’s supervision. He said they were instead suggesting that he be put on house arrest in the home of a couple his mother knows who have indicated a willingness to supervise and take care of him.
The public defenders indicated that there is an unidentified source willing to post a cash bond for the boy since his family cannot financially manage to post bond.
But Nicholas told the judge the prosecutor’s office would be opposed to the cash-bond proposal.
“Mr. White is accused of a violent act,” Nicholas said. “Mr. White also is accused of trying to escape.”
Nicholas said the nature of his charges, in combination with the information that he may be schizophrenic, argue against the proposal and a house-arrest release.
By Jeff Lehr