The Wall Street Journal said in this Tuesday story that filings in the Jared Lee Loughner case strongly suggest that evaluators have found Loughner incompetent to stand trial.
I've spent some of the last couple of days checking out their story, and while they may be right in the end, their "strong suggestion" that Loughner is incompetent is probably too strong.
This all came out of a pair of documents filed Monday (attached) about whether a psychologist and a psychiatrist who evaluated Loughner must testify in a May 25 competency hearing. Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed that psychologist Christina Pietz and psychiatrist Matthew Carroll need not testify because their reports are adequate.
The Journal reporters cite experts in concluding this likely means both evaluators found Loughner incompetent to stand trial.
But several sources with a deep understanding of competency issues in federal criminal cases have told me evaluators traditionally are not called to testify about a defendant's competency. Only in a small minority of the cases is it necessary for the attorneys to go beyond the written competency reports and testify in person.
What the filings do suggest, these sources said, is that Pietz and Carroll came to the same conclusion — either that Loughner is competent or that he's incompetent.
"It’s rare for evaluators to be called to testify if they came to the same conclusion, " forensic psychologist and longtime competency-evaluator Mary Alice Conroy told me.
Former federal prosecutor Sean Chapman said the Wall Street Journal may be right in their conclusion about Loughner's incompetency. But he added: "The other possibility is that there’s a strong competency conclusion."
Yes, there are some indications that Loughner may continue to be disturbed. He wrote a letter to Judge Larry A. Burns about his attorneys, and it seems unlikely that was a love letter.
But still, that leaves us with about a 50 percent change that the Wall Street Journal story was right.