UPDATED: Competency Hearing Tuesday in Guaman Case
A competency hearing to determine if Nicolas Guaman understands the charges against him, and his case, rescheduled several times, is expected to begin at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
The competency hearing for Nicolas Guaman is expected to begin at 11 a.m Tuesday at Worcester Superior Court. The hearing has been rescheduled several times over the last several months.
WORCESTER — A competency hearing for Nicolas Guaman, an Ecuadorian man charged in the death of Milford resident Matthew Denice, was postponed Tuesday because the available interpreter could not speak Quichua, the defendant's primary language.
Quichua is an indigenous language of Ecuador, and Massachusetts has just one interpreter who speaks it fluently and works for the courts, according to a defense attorney. The interpreter available Tuesday was Bolivian, and had a dialect the defendant could not understand, according to Superior Judge Janet Kenton-Walker.
Kenton-Walker ordered the competency hearing rescheduled to a date at which an appropriate interpreter would be available. The new date is Jan. 24.
"We've got a major problem," the judge told the attorneys and audience members in the courtroom, including the family of Matthew Denice, who had waited two hours for the hearing to begin.
"We don't have the appropriate interpreter to assist the defendant in this hearing," the judge said.
Although a Spanish language interpreter was available, the nature of the competency hearing would include complex medical terminology. The defendant, the judge said, "doesn't have a real working use or knowledge of the Spanish language, that will be of any use to him in a hearing like this."
"It is the defendant's right to have meaningful participation in this case," Kenton-Walker said. "I will not proceed without an appropriate interpreter."
In a competency hearing, experts testify as to whether a defendant understands the case against him, along with other criteria for competency.
Guaman's attorneys have argued that he is not competent, that he lacks an ability to understand his case and work effectively with his attorneys.
Guaman, according to police, is an illegal immigrant who has been living in the U.S. for at least seven years. Before his arrest, he was employed as a roofer. On Aug. 20, 2011, he is accused of operating a Ford F-150 that struck Denice as he rode his motorcycle, then of failing to stop the vehicle. Guaman faces a second-degree murder charge, along with several other felony charges.
Two reports have been submitted to the court, and Kenton-Walker said she had reviewed them. One was submitted by Paul Spiers, a Danvers-based neuropsychologist appointed by the defense attorneys. Another report is by Hanya Bluestone, a Spencer-based psychologist appointed by the court.
According to defense attorney Peter Ettenberg, Spiers found Guaman was not competent to stand trial. The report submitted by Bluestone did not find him 'not competent', Ettenberg said.
Because they are medical reports, the documents are not a public record.
Outside the courtroom, Ettenberg told reporters that Spiers used a Spanish-language interpreter in evaluating Guaman. Ettenberg said Bluestone used an interpreter who speaks Quichua. Ettenberg has challenged the conclusions of the Bluestone report, he said, in part, because the interpreter was evaluating her "impressions" of his client.
The competency hearing has been rescheduled at least twice.
Denice's parents, Maureen and Michael Maloney, told reporters outside the courtroom that the delays in the competency hearing were disappointing. But that they want to make sure no argument can be made that Guaman did not understand the proceedings.
"We want to dot our I's and cross our T's and not give the defense any excuses to throw this out," said Maureen Maloney.
Michael Maloney said the family will continue to attend every hearing. "We're just going to keep on coming until we get justice for Matt. It's sad we have to go in and prove somebody's competency. He was competent to get into this country."