SAN DIEGO — A 46-year-old man charged in San Diego County's largest child molestation case has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity after being found competent to stand trial.
Superior Court Judge Frederic L. Link made his competency ruling this week after reviewing psychiatric evaluations of Richard Ernest Howard, 46, who faces 350 counts of child molestation involving 15 San Diego County girls between the ages of 3 and 12. County prosecutors say this is a record number of charges.
Howard also is charged with assuming the identity of a dead person.
Although the judge found Howard mentally competent to stand trial, he allowed him to enter the insanity plea, under which a jury will either convict or acquit him. Howard's trial is set for Jan. 22.
If Howard is convicted of any charges, jurors will reconvene to determine if he was sane when the crimes were committed. A finding that Howard legally was insane would mean he could be committed to an undetermined sentence at a state mental hospital.