A Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge on Tuesday deemed a Lompoc man mentally incompetent to stand trial for charges stemming from an incident at which his father and a dog were set on fire in June, suspending criminal proceedings.
Joseph Ashley Garcia, 40, and three experts testified during the hearing that started Monday morning and concluded Tuesday afternoon in Judge Von Deroian’s courtroom in Lompoc.
After the mental competency hearing, the judge also agreed to allow Deputy District Attorney Alexander Harrison to amend the criminal complaint to include an animal cruelty charge despite objections from defense attorney Erica Sutherland.
Garcia has been in custody since the June 11 attack that critically injured his father, 68-year-old Joseph Michael Garcia. The father died days later from his injuries.
The father’s dog had been sitting on his lap and fled from the house, but was captured and ultimately cared for by a Los Alamos resident, who confirmed Tuesday that she had found a new home for the healed canine.
In addition to the new animal cruelty charge, Garcia has been charged with murder and a special circumstance for infliction of torture.
The question centered on whether Garcia could assist in his defense as he has contended a vast criminal conspiracy involving his father and others with allegations included in a Twitter video the day of the attack.
“It became clear to me he suffers delusions,” the judge said, adding that she doubted he could rationally assist his lawyer and ticked off a list of Garcia’s claims.
Among allegations labeled “outrageous” and “fantastical,” Garcia has claimed he was being followed, malware was placed on his electronic devices, a website showing his allegation disappeared, his home was staged as a crime scene and it all threatened national security.
None of the allegations has been proven, and Noozhawk is declining to spell out the specifics of the unfounded claims.
“It really is not as simple as a disagreement in trial strategy,” Deroian said, noting Garcia’s delusions claiming a criminal conspiracy encompassing a network of law enforcement agencies.
Her finding suspends criminal proceedings and will send Garcia to a state treatment program with the case resuming once he has been found mentally competent.
At the same time, the judge also rejected Garcia’s request to serve as his own attorney, with Deroian saying she could not find the defendant competent to represent himself at this point.
On Monday, psychologist Dr. Susan Ferrant testified that she diagnosed Garcia with a persecutory delusional disorder, contending someone who is delusional cannot be swayed from their beliefs.
“They can’t see the false nature of their allegations,” she added.
At one point during a discussion about the attack on his dad, Garcia declared, “I am the victim,” Ferrant said.
Under questioning from Harrison about Garcia’s use of methamphetamine, Ferrant changed her diagnosis to say it could be persecutory delusional disorder or a drug-inducted delusional disorder.
Another defense witness, attorney Neil Levinson, sat in on two meetings between the defense attorney and her client.
“Based on the information I reviewed and my observations, I don’t believe he has the willingness or ability to rationally assist in his defense,” Levinson said.
On Monday afternoon, Garcia, who wanted to be found mentally competent, took the witness stand. The prosecuting attorney asked Garcia if he would have doubts about any defense attorney handling his case.
“Had there been an investigation into my claims, I don’t think we could be sitting in this room right now,” Garcia said.
He claimed his allegations amount to pieces of evidence that would help show his mindset at the time he attacked his father.
Upon hearing Garcia’s allegations and the lack of response from law enforcement officers, the defendant contended, a jury “would think I even acted heroically.”
The prosecution’s witness, Dr. James Tahmisian, said an assessment of the defendant’s competency to stand trial placed Garcia in the average range.
“He did not present anything irrational that would interfere with his ability to consult with his attorney,” Tahmisian said.
Garcia also told the psychologist he hoped to get a plea deal for manslaughter, which would carry a lighter sentence over his current murder charge that carries a possible sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
“My recommendation to the court is he is competent,” Tahmisian added.
Garcia, who remains in the custody of the Santa Barbara County Jail, was ordered back to court Oct. 13.