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Judge Declares Accused Killer Ready for Trial

Courts: He finds Charles Ng mentally competent after reviewing psychological reports. The defendant, a suspect in a dozen murders, asks to act as his own attorney.

April 21, 1998|THAO HUA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled Monday that accused serial killer Charles Ng is mentally competent to stand trial.

"He has no mental disorder and he is capable of assisting counsel if he chooses to do so," said Judge John J. Ryan, who made his decision after considering the reports of three psychiatrists who examined Ng.

The ruling means that Ng, who is suspected of a dozen murders committed in Calaveras County more than a decade ago, will have to face trial Sept. 1, a date the former Marine wants to postpone.

Ng asked the judge Monday if he could represent himself. In court documents, Ng cited an "irreversible, insolvable breakdown in attorney-client relationship" as his reason for wanting to do so.

"His request is not going to get him what he wants," Ryan said, indicating his intention to let the trial date stand even if he allows Ng to represent himself.

The judge further warned Ng that he might not be allowed special privileges such as having investigators help in his defense if represents himself.

"Your rights are restricted," Ryan said. "You will get what the other [attorneys] get at the County Jail. No more. No less. And you have a complex case."

Ng, 37, then asked the judge to reconsider his request, which the judge agreed to do. The hearing was scheduled to resume today.

The trial--expected to be among the longest and most expensive in state history--has been fraught with roadblocks, including the latest complication involving Ng's legal representation.

Ng has refused to cooperate with his attorneys, William Kelley and James Merwin, and wants the court to appoint San Francisco attorney Michael Burt as lead lawyer.

But Burt said he could not lead the defense unless he had more time to prepare, a proposal that Ryan would not grant, prompting Ng to file the motion to represent himself.

"I want to take over so that I don't have to endure having them represent me, or misrepresent me," Ng said in court Monday.

Kelley had asked the judge to determine whether his client is sane to stand trial, citing Ng's refusal to cooperate with his own attorneys.

Two of three doctors who examined Ng determined that he is competent to stand trial. Doctors Kaushal Sharma and Paul Blair concluded that Ng is more than capable of understanding the charges against him, the legal standard used to determine competency. A third doctor, Seawright W. Anderson, concluded that Ng was not competent to stand trial and that "unless the court appoints attorney Michael Burt to represent him, defendant most likely will regress to a psychotic disorder."

Ng was arrested in Canada in 1985, and waged a six-year battle against extradition before being returned to California to stand trial. He has since filed numerous motions against his attorneys and two requests to represent himself.

Garden Grove residents Dwight and Lola Stapley, whose 26-year-old son was among Ng's alleged victims, said outside the courtroom that they are frustrated by what they believe to be the suspect's delay tactics.

"It's not a way to find justice," said Lola Stapley, 69, who has attended almost all the court proceedings. "It's a way not to find justice."

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