Chief Motel murder trial postponed for defendant's competency hearing

By Lance Benzel Published: July 30, 2013 | 7:00 pm

A murder trial was postponed in Colorado Springs this week because of concerns over the defendant's behavior in court.

Instead of facing a jury, Santos Joseph Torres, 50, was ordered Monday to submit to a competency evaluation at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo.

The review is expected to take up to 60 days.

A judge will then decide whether Torres is capable of understanding the proceedings against him.

If Torres is found to be competent, a new trial will be scheduled. If he is ruled incompetent, the case against him will be put on hold pending psychiatric treatment.

Torres is one of two people charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 21, 2012 death of Michael Ramirez, who police say was found dead in a room at the Chief Motel, 1624 S. Nevada Ave. Jury selection was due to begin Monday morning.

Santos' co-defendant, Jeannette Silvia, 49, is due for trial on Sept. 23, court records show.

According to court documents, 4th Judicial District Judge Scott A. Sells "reluctantly" granted a motion for a competency review based on an outburst by Torres at a July 25 pretrial hearing. Prosecutor Andrew S. Vaughan said the defendant mumbled incoherently at the hearing and, during an outburst, accused the judge of racism and said he ran a "kangaroo court."

The tantrum came shortly after Judge Sells ruled that Torres must provide fingerprints as part of the prosecution's request to have him declared a habitual offender, a sentence enhancer that could triple or quadruple any sentences against him if Torres were to be acquitted of first-degree murder and convicted of a lower charge.

In ordering the mental evaluation, Sells cited his ethical obligations and mentioned the prospect of creating a "reversible error," meaning a higher court could have faulted the judge for oversight and overturned any guilty verdicts.

Torres isn't the only murder defendant whose conduct in court has led to delays.

Marcus Smith, who is accused in the murder of an elderly woman whose body was found ablaze at a popular trailhead, has undergone two competency evaluations since his November 2011 arrest, both due to courtroom outbursts in which he has sworn and spit at court personnel, among other antics.

Smith, 22, was found competent to stand trial after each review, with a judge citing reports that he exaggerates his behavior when in front of people.

The case against Smith is pending in the courts.

After another competency-based challenge in December, Judge David Prince ruled Dennis Odell, 30, incompetent to stand trial in the beating death of his uncle, Terry Odell, based on results of the younger man's psychiatric review by the Mental Health Institute.

State psychiatrists reaffirmed their findings in June and Prince ordered Odell to remain in the state psychiatric facility pending another competency review on Oct. 7.

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