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Judge rules Smith unfit in murder-for-hire case

 

The Associated Press

 

GREENWOOD -- Doctors will keep monitoring the mental condition of Dr. Arnold Smith, but he won't face trial for now. 

 

Circuit Court Judge Breland Hilburn ruled Tuesday that Smith is unfit to stand trial on murder-for-hire charges, sending him back to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield. 

 

Hilburn found Smith can't understand the charges against him or aid in his defense, following recommendations of psychiatrists at Whitfield. 

 

The judge's decision indefinitely freezes the prosecution of the 71-year-old oncologist for plotting to have Greenwood attorney Lee Abraham assassinated. 

 

"The State Hospital is to examine the defendant and provide a report whether the defendant has regained competency every four months," Hilburn said at the hearing. 

 

Smith is charged with murder. Prosecutors say he instigated a plot that ended with the death of gunman Keaira Byrd and serious wounding of Derrick Lacy. Byrd allegedly was hired to kill Abraham, who represented Smith's ex-wife in a divorce years ago. Abraham wasn't injured. 

 

The Greenwood Commonwealth reports Hilburn said doctors disagree if Smith might regain competency. 

 

Dr. Reb McMichael, director of forensic services at Whitfield, expressed doubts in his report that Smith would ever regain the ability to stand trial. 

 

Two other medical witnesses, Dr. Gilbert S. Macvaugh III, a Greenville-based psychologist hired by the defense, and Dr. John Montgomery, a forensic psychiatrist at Whitfield, both indicated the possibility exists that Smith would regain competency. 

 

Smith has been undergoing a psychological evaluation at Whitfield since June 4, after Macvaugh found the physician suffering from a severe mental illness. 

 

Not discussed at Tuesday's hearing was whether the court can order Smith to undergo treatment while at Whitfield. Attorneys for Smith indicated that they would oppose mandatory treatment, such as forced medication. 

 

Defense attorney Hugo Rodriguez said he has doubts about whether Smith is receiving adequate medical care at the mental hospital. 

 

"We have some grave concerns about his present medical condition," Rodriguez said. "I don't know if Whitfield is in a position to have him fully medically evaluated. He has a prior stroke." 

 

Should the case come to trial, Smith's defense attorneys have already indicated that they intend to plead innocent by reason of insanity. 

 

The competency ruling also has significant implications for the civil case Abraham filed against Smith. He is seeking unspecified damages as well as court expenses. 

 

On Tuesday, Hilburn said that attorneys for Abraham may go forward with written requests for files and admissions but may not depose witnesses or direct questions toward Smith.

 

 

 

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