A Tucson man accused in two slayings may have to be forcibly administered antipsychotic medication in an effort to restore him to competency.
The recommendation from a jail psychiatrist is now under review by a Pima County Superior Court judge.
King Yates is facing two first-degree murder charges in connection with the November 2016 shooting death of his wife, Cassandra, and the April 2017 beating and asphyxiation death of his Pima County jail cellmate, Branden Roth.
After two years of status conferences and case management hearings and increasingly erratic behavior by Yates, who fired his previous two attorneys, Judge Howard Fell ruled in November that Yates was incompetent to assist in his own defense.
Yates was ordered to participate in the Pima County jail’s restoration to competency program, which he successfully completed in 2015 with the assistance of medication.
During Monday’s hearing, Fell said that the jail’s mental health professionals believe Yates would better respond to the program if he were prescribed antipsychotics, but Yates has so far been reluctant to cooperate.
Dr. David Jendusa, a psychiatrist who works at the jail, testified Monday that he previously worked with Yates in 2015, who at the time agreed to take oral antipsychotics under the threat of forced injections, should he fail to comply.
Jendusa said he worked with Yates in the program from August through November 2015, at which point Yates was considered restored to competency, dependent on medication. Jendusa continued to follow Yates’ case for the next year, while he was in jail awaiting trial on a case that would ultimately result in an acquittal.
Jendusa said he began seeing Yates again on Dec. 14 and has met with him every two weeks since then. During their initial visit, Yates agreed to take the same antipsychotic he took in 2015, called Seroquel, but wanted the right to refuse on occasion. Jendusa agreed, Yates took the first dose and has refused medication ever since.
In court and in meetings with Jendusa, Yates has claimed that his food at water at the jail are being poisoned. He has since told Jendusa that he refused the medication because he believes it’s also being poisoned.
Jendusa said he would ideally like to try Yates on the same Seroquel regimen as was used in 2015, but asked Fell for the flexibility to try different medications should the Seroquel not be effective or if Yates continue to refuse it. Several injectible antipsychotics, along with their potential side effects and adverse reactions, were discussed during the hearing as potential alternatives.
Yates’ advisory counsel, Bobbi Berry, questioned Jendusa about the jail’s process for forcible administration of medications, expressing concern that being held down or restrained could potentially exacerbate his existing mental health issues.
Jendusa said it was a possibility but the effects were temporary and that ideally, Yates would feel better once his long-running delusions are under control, saying Yates is currently “under a lot of duress by thinking he’s being poisoned.”
Yates also displays “characterlogical” issues, including traits of narcissism, Jendusa said, adding that while Yates has legitimately diagnosed psychological issues, he believes at times Yates may be manipulating the system.
Jendusa told the court that under medication, Yates could start to show improvements in as little as a few weeks, but the process could also take a few months. Berry objected to involuntarily medicating Yates.
Fell asked Jendusa to prepare a protocol and treatment plan for him to review within the next several days, telling Berry and Deputy Pima County Attorney Jonathan Mosher that no medication would be forced until both sides have a chance to file a memo with their thoughts on the treatment plan.
Yates is scheduled for a review hearing on Feb. 11 to check on the status of his restoration to competency.