UPDATED: Judge to Rule on Guaman Competency
Ending four hours of testimony, a Superior Court judge said she will consider the evidence and decide whether Ecuadorian laborer Nicolas Guaman is competent to face trial on charges including second-degree murder.
WORCESTER — Superior Judge Janet Kenton-Walker has taken under advisement often-conflicting testimony from two doctors about whether Nicolas Dutan Guaman is competent to be tried on charges including second degree murder.
The hearing began Tuesday with testimony from state-appointed psychologist Hanya Bluestone, who said she found Guaman, an Ecuadorian citizen, has gaps in his knowledge of the U.S. court process.
But Bluestone reported that it was difficult for her to determine whether those gaps exist because he didn't understand the concept, or was unwilling to speak about it. Questions asked of the defendant included whether he understood the function of a judge, or the purpose of witnesses in a case.
When Guaman would say, "I don't know," she said, it was difficult to determine "whether Mr. Guaman does not want to discuss something, or does not know something."
She testified as well that Guaman often would not answer questions "that tended to be the kinds of things that could be more incriminating," including inquiries about his alcohol use, the seriousness of the charges he faces, and his past conflicts with police.
Bluestone, however, stopped short of declaring she thought he was competent to stand trial. She said she thought he could benefit from additional supports, including an interpreter who speaks Quichua, his native, indigenous language, and consultation with a defense attorney who could explain the court process to him.
By comparison, the defense-appointed neuropsychologist Paul Spiers flatly stated that he thought Guaman was not competent to be tried, based on a series of evaulations he performed with a Spanish-language interpreter.
"He is not competent to stand trial," Spiers testified.
According to a court order issued earlier in the case, the legal threshold is this: "whether he has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding — and whether he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.'
Guaman, 35, is charged with second-degree murder and several other felony charges in the August 2011 death of Matthew Denice, a 23-year-old motorcyclist who was struck by a pickup truck that Milford Police say Guaman was operating. Guaman then failed to stop the Ford F-150, prosecutors say, resulting in the young man's death.
For the first time Tuesday, a translator who speaks Quichua was brought in to assist Guaman. At all other court appearances in his case, since his arrest, he has had access to a Spanish language interpreter.
Bluestone testified Tuesday that he is illiterate in Spanish. He can sign his name, she reported, and little else. She used a Quichua-speaking interpreter in her evaluation of his competency.
Spiers, by comparison, used a Spanish-speaking neuropsychologist to assist him in evaluating Guaman. Spiers' evaluation included standardized competency exams, administered in Spanish. Following those exams, and a review of other records, Spiers said he determined that Guaman scored "extremely low" on an intelligence range.
Guaman told both of the medical experts in separate interviews that he had just two years of education in his native Ecuador, beginning at age 8. He left school at age 10 to work to help support his family. He learned some of the Spanish language in school, but the instruction was in Quichua, an Inca-based language.
The evaluation administered by Spiers, called the Texas Competency Instrument, is a 37-item multiple-choice test written to be appropriate for a fifth or sixth-grade level, the doctor said, on cross-examination. And its scoring system is referenced against a sample of people in the U.S. whose primary language is Spanish.
Under cross-examination, Spiers said portions of the exam had to be administered orally, because Guaman could not understand what was being asked. Of the 37 questions, he reported, Guaman got eight correct.
On cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Travers questioned the decision to administer a written test, dependent on vocabulary that Guaman does not use. Travers emphasized that in Milford, Guaman is living in a Quichua-speaking subculture, not a Spanish-speaking environment. Spiers responded, "He said he speaks Spanish, when we asked him."
At the end of the hearing, Judge Kenton-Walker said she would take the matter under advisement, and would issue a decision. The next scheduled hearing in the case is Feb. 26.
Following the hearing, attended by Matthew Denice's family, including his brother and parents, his mother said she was pleased with the prosecution's efforts, but was unsure how the judge might weigh the testimony.
"I am concerned," Maureen Maloney said. "It could go either way. I'll be a nervous wreck until the decision is made."