Padraza found competent
Circuit Court Judge Bynum Gibson ruled on Tuesday that 24-year-old Daniel Pedraza is competent to stand trial next week for allegedly murdering his two-year-old stepdaughter, Aubriana Coke, in early 2012.
Gibson handed down his ruling after hearing hours of testimony from expert witnesses called by Defense Attorney Jeff Rosenzweig and Prosecutor Thomas Deen.
Rosenzweig called Dr. Antolin Llorente, a psychologist from Baltimore, to testify first Tuesday morning.
Llorente testified that he believed Pedraza, who has been charged with capital murder and faces the death penalty if convicted, suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and is not competent to stand trial “at this time.” He said he believed that Pedraza would benefit from treatment for his anxiety and depression, which are both components of PTSD. Once treatment has been successful, Llorente said he could possibly be fit to stand trial at that point.
He based his diagnosis of the disorder on several factors including Pedraza’s unwillingness to talk with his attorneys as of May 13.
Llorente said the trauma that caused the disorder included his immigration to the United States from Mexico at the age of three or four; alleged abuse in his childhood home which involved his sister; poverty living conditions during early childhood where he suffered from malnutrition, which can cause problems because a child’s brain is developing, and serving the United States in Iraq as part of his National Guard duty.
“All of these different stressors lead me to believe he met the condition of PTSD,” Llorente said. “In PTSD cases there is a constant need to minimize the effects of the abuse and the experiences of war because patients with the disorder try to pretend the events never happened.”
As for Pedraza’s unwillingness to communicate with his defense attorneys, Llorente said he told him he did not trust his attorneys and that he didn’t deem that as a reasonable response. However, Llorente testified that he never asked Pedraza why he didn’t trust his attorneys.
“One thing that took me aback was that the government never asked to look at my raw data,” Llorente told the court. “That’s never happened in my career before.”
Upon cross examination by Deen, Llorente admitted that he didn’t perform the standard exams that are normally administered to determine competency to stand trial. Those tests are the Fitness Interview Test (FIT) Revised and the Mini-Mental State Evaluation.
Llorente said the tests were not appropriate to evaluate Pedraza because they would not give an accurate result because of Pedraza’s Hispanic background.
“I feel the tests are not appropriate. I did not use any tests that would be traditionally used in the competency to stand trial,” He said during his testimony.
Deen also pointed out that Pedraza was talking with defense co-counsel Tim Leonard prior to the start of the trial in an effort to illustrate that Pedraza does talk with his attorneys.
However, Llorente maintained that simply talking didn’t mean he was participating in his defense.
The second witness was called by prosecution. Dr. Joao Ramos, psychiatrist with the Arkansas State Hospital in Little Rock, took the stand after lunch.
Ramos testified that, in his opinion, Pedraza did not suffer from PTSD.
When questioned about the alleged abuse that took place in his childhood home, Pedraza denied such abuse but admitted his father whipped him. However, the whippings were not outside the realm of ordinary in the Mexican culture.
Ramos testified that Pedraza told him his National Guard training helped him deal with his Iraqi deployment well.
While Pedraza continued to minimize the effects of the various stressors, Ramos said his tendency to minimize alone didn’t point to PTSD.
“Other symptoms have to be there, and they just aren’t there,” Ramos said. “He just doesn’t have the symptoms of PTSD.”
Ramos further stated that in Pedraza’s mind the stressors were not outside the realm of normal for him because of his cultural background and military training and therefore, do not quality as traumatic experiences.
“In order for a patient to be diagnosed with PTSD, there has to be a trauma,” Ramos said. “There is no trauma to him. There were stressors, but that’s not the same as trauma.”
He said if Pedraza was truly traumatized by the events the defense is alleging, Pedraza would not minimize the impact. Instead he’d just tell them he didn’t want to talk about it.
As for Pedraza’s unwillingness to talk with his attorneys, Ramos said he told him he didn’t trust his attorneys because they were trying to prove he had PTSD.
According to that testimony, Pedraza told Ramos he was trying to tell his attorneys he didn’t have PTSD, and that they believed his wife over him so he didn’t trust them. Ramos said the reason sounded reasonable to him under the circumstances, and it is not the PTSD that is keeping him from cooperating in his own defense.
Pedraza maintained his innocence during sessions with Ramos. He told the doctor, “if they believe my wife, they need to go represent her.”
Ramos said he did administer the FIT Revised and MME, and found that Pedraza was competent to stand trial.
When asked about why he never requested the raw data from Llorente, Ramos said all of the results from the evaluations by Llorente were found in his report. Therefore, there was no need for raw data to be furnished.
In the end, the case came down to who could support their findings.
Gibson said Llorente did not give any substantial proof that the stressors, or alleged traumatic experiences, took place. He did not provide quotes or background information to prove any part of his opinion. However, Gibson said he was impressed with Llorente’s sincerity and willingness to testify.
On the other hand, Gibson said Ramos gave adequate support for his findings that Pedraza is fit to stand trial.
Gibson recognized that Pedraza understands the heart of the case with the statement about his own attorneys believing his wife.
“This case is going to come down to the jury weighing his credibility against Mrs. Pedraza’s credibility,” Gibson said. “If his attorneys don’t recognize that fact, (Pedraza is) totally rational.”
Gibson finished his ruling by telling Pedraza he wants a fair trial in this case for both sides, and that the time for trial has come. He also said if he believed that Pedraza wasn’t competent enough to stand trial, he wouldn’t allow him to be tried at this time.
Pedraza is set to stand trial beginning May 30 and run at least through the following week.