VINITA, Okla. — The question of whether Ronnie D. Busick is competent to stand trial in four murders, including those of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible, nearly 20 years ago could be considered before the year is out.

Busick, the lone surviving suspect in the 1999 deaths, is also charged with the murders of Freeman's parents, Danny and Kathy Freeman, of Welch, Oklahoma.

During a hearing held Friday in Craig County District Court in Vinita, the judge set the next hearing for Busick, 68, of Wichita, for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 19.

Busick is facing four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and an arson charge in connection with the deaths of Danny and Kathy Freeman, and the kidnapping and slayings of Ashley Freeman and her friend Lauria Bible in 1999.

The girls’ bodies have never been found.

Michelle Lowry, community outreach coordinator for the District Attorney’s Office for Craig, Mayes and Rogers counties, said in a statement Friday that it’s anticipated that a competency hearing date could be set at the upcoming hearing.

“On that date, we expect (the) judge will set a competency trial date in December,” she said, after speaking with District Attorney Matt Ballard after the hearing. “I would only be guessing at what (the) judge knows, but if a competency trial is expected in December, I would imagine all competency reports are complete. But can’t officially confirm that.”

The suspect's competency has been questioned by his attorneys because of a brain injury he sustained from a gunshot wound to the head in 1978, as well as a history of drug abuse. Busick's attorneys filed an application for the mental competency evaluation in June, and Busick was ordered by the judge to undergo three competency evaluations at a hearing the following month. The evaluation results are expected to be discussed at the competency hearing in December.

Gretchen Mosley, Busick’s lead attorney, told the Globe previously that they’re not concerned that he’s mentally ill or psychotic, but that he’s not functioning properly. Competency is the ability for the suspect to comprehend his charges, what’s going on around him and the ability to defend himself, officials said.

Mosley could not be reached on Friday.

The defense had hired forensic neuropsychologist Gilbert Martinez to assess Busick’s brain functioning; his initial test results showed an IQ level of 74. Oklahoma law states that the suspect cannot be prosecuted until it can determined that he is competent to stand trial.

Busick is believed to have worked with Warren "Phil" Welch II and David A. Pennington in committing the crimes. Welch, who was 54 at the time of the girl's disappearance, died in 2007. Pennington, who was 41 at the time of the crimes, died in 2015 at the age of 57. Neither of them were charged.

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.

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