Vasquez competent to stand trial
NEW ULM – Brown County District Court Judge Robert A. Docherty denied a motion for a finding of incompetency for Miguel A. Vasquez, according to a memorandum filed Monday.
Vasquez faces charges of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and second-degree arson after grand jury in Brown County returned an indictment on Jan. 7, 2015. Charges stem from the Sept. 25, 2014, death of Vasquez’ ex-girlfriend Amber Lechuga.
Vasquez’ public defender attorneys Steve Bergeson of Minneapolis, Gregory Handevidt and Scott Cutcher of Mankato, moved for a finding of incompetency, based on Vasquez’ inability to assist in his own defense because he cannot accurately remember what happened on the night of the alleged crime.
On Oct. 2, 2014, the Brown County Sheriff’s Office received nuclear DNA results from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) that identified the remains found in a van near the Cottonwood River south of Sleepy Eye were those of Lechuga. The cause of death was determined to be homicide. Vasquez was arrested without incident later that day in Sleepy Eye.
In his analysis, Docherty wrote that both the State’s expert, a Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) forensic psychiatrist medical specialist, Dr. Chinmoy Gulrajani and Vasquez’ expert Dr. Komaridis testified, and the Court finds that (Vasquez) has the mental capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings. “(Vasquez) has not shown any confusion as to his surroundings. He understands the charges against him, the consequences of conviction, and the plea process. He understands the roles of the defense attorney, the prosecutor, the judge and the jury. He has been able to tell his version of events consistent with the version he related to police at the time of the victim’s death. He understands the evidence the State has collected.”
Docherty wrote that Vasquez’ sole ground for a finding of incompetency is that he is unable to accurately recall his actions on the night of the incident. “In the only published Minnesota court decision addressing amnesia and incompetency, the court held that amnesia is not an automatic bar to competency. State v. Hulin. 412 N.W. 2d. 333,338 (Minn. Ct. App. 1987), (citing Davis v. Wyrick, 766 F.2d 1197, 1202 (8th Cir. 1985).
Docherty wrote that Vasquez related two different versions of the events. In the first version, the vehicle rear-ending story, heat of passion is not an issue, because Vasquez claims an unknown assailant killed Lechuga. In a version of events related to Komaridis, Lechuga killed herself, in which case heat of passion is not an issue.
Docherty wrote that a heat of passion defense could only be an issue if there were a third story, in which Vasquez argued with Lechuga and killed her in a state of high emotion. “This is most likely the repressed memory that Cutcher hopes is locked inside Vasquez’ head. There are no identified potential witnesses to such an argument,” Docherty wrote.
Because Vasquez told several stories about what happened surrounding Lechuga’s death, Gulrajani diagnosed Vasquez with dissociative amnesia. Gulrajani said the amnesia claim would not affect Vasquez’ competency to stand trial, at a two-day competency hearing Dec. 7 and Dec. 12, 2015 in Brown County Court.
Bergeson argued that the issue wasn’t that clear and asked the Court ot certify the competency question to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Vasquez remains in the Brown County Jail on $2 million bond without conditions, $1 million with conditions. His next court date has not been set.
(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org).