Suspect is competent to stand trial

Date: 2003-09-30

Suspect is competent to stand trial

Sep 30, 2003
Linda Thomson
Deseret News

Brian Christopher Sullivan, charged with capital murder in connection with the deaths of his wife and 4-year-old daughter, is legally competent to stand trial, according to a judge.

Third District Judge Ann Boyden ruled Monday that Sullivan, 39, has "the presumption of competency" under the law and set Dec. 5 for a preliminary hearing.

Sullivan had been refusing to answer questions by mental-health evaluators, invoking his right against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. His attorney, Lisa Remal, cited federal case law and also said Sullivan was within his rights under the Utah Constitution as well.

The ruling was prompted by a motion filed by prosecutors asking the judge to order Sullivan to comply with the evaluators.

"I don't believe the court has the power to order Mr. Sullivan to answer questions," Remal said, arguing that in doing so the court would be forcing Sullivan to relinquish his constitutional rights.

Prosecutor Kevin Murphy said the judge had already ordered the mental competency evaluation, and now prosecutors were simply asking that the order be enforced. Murphy said prosecutors were "trying to protect the integrity of the court" by ensuring Sullivan was competent and that the court's orders were enforced.

In a somewhat unusual twist, the prosecutors had asked for the competency evaluation, which ordinarily is requested by defense attorneys. In April, Boyden ordered that one be performed.

At the time, prosecutors were concerned about statements Sullivan reportedly made about "religious sacrifices" and "operating under God's command" and how "some people might consider him crazy."

But Boyden said Monday the case now presented a "new and separate issue" of whether Sullivan can invoke the Fifth Amendment and remain silent.

"I find I would be in violation of the defendant's rights to compel him to answer those questions," the judge said.

Since she had not been given any evidence to show Sullivan was incompetent, the judge determined he is competent, as is presumed by the law.

Boyden noted the issue of competency can be raised again at any time during the court proceedings.

Being "competent" to stand trial does not mean an individual has to be perfectly healthy. The law requires that the person must be able to understand how the court system works, understand the charges being brought and be able to assist defense attorneys.

Sullivan is charged with killing LaRae Marara Sullivan and their daughter, Kehaulani Nui Sullivan, in their West Valley home on Feb. 13.

A state medical examiner determined they were stabbed to death, but police found the two bodies covered with blankets in a bed, according to court documents. The bodies apparently had been cleaned. But police found large bloodstains on the carpeting and articles of clothing that had cuts in the front consistent with the stab wounds on the victims' bodies, according to court documents.

If convicted of two counts of aggravated homicide, Sullivan could face the death penalty.

E-MAIL: lindat@desnews.com

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