Mur­der sus­pect may self-rep­re­sent

Man with his­tory of men­tal ill­ness can act as his own at­tor­ney, L.A. judge de­cides.

Los Angeles Times - - CITY & STATE - By James Queally james.queally@la­times.com Twit­ter: @JamesQueal­lyLAT

An Ok­la­homa man with a his­tory of men­tal ill­ness will be al­lowed to rep­re­sent him­self when he faces mur­der charges later this year in the killings of a Long Beach wo­man and her 4-year-old daugh­ter, a judge ruled Thurs­day.

Bran­don Col­bert, 23, was ar­rested last year and charged with us­ing a shot­gun to kill Ca­rina Mancera, 26, and her daugh­ter Jen­abel Anaya, on Aug. 9, 2016. The Tulsa na­tive had trav­eled to Cal­i­for­nia for the first time just days be­fore the shoot­ings. In­ves­ti­ga­tors have not re­vealed a mo­tive in the slay­ings.

Col­bert’s men­tal com­pe­tence has been a cen­tral is­sue in court pro­ceed­ings this year, with the de­fen­dant traf­fick­ing in bizarre con­spir­acy the­o­ries while rep­re­sent­ing him­self dur­ing pre­lim­i­nary hear­ings.

Med­i­cal records ob­tained by the Los An­ge­les Times this year showed Col­bert was pre­vi­ously di­ag­nosed with schizophreni­form dis­or­der, mean­ing he was pre­sent­ing symp­toms of schizophre­nia, but not for the six-month pe­riod nec­es­sary for a for­mal di­ag­no­sis. Doc­tors in Ok­la­homa also feared Col­bert had been abus­ing K2, or “spice,” a syn­thetic cannabi­noid that can ex­ac­er­bate un­der­ly­ing symp­toms of men­tal ill­ness and that has been linked to vi­o­lent out­bursts.

In May, Los An­ge­les County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Jesse Ro­driguez found Col­bert in­com­pe­tent to stand trial, cit­ing a ninepage med­i­cal re­port. Ro­driguez or­dered that Col­bert be ad­mit­ted to a state hospi­tal for treat­ment.

On Thurs­day, he ruled Col­bert was com­pe­tent both to stand trial and to act as his own at­tor­ney, said Greg Risling, a spokesman for the Los An­ge­les County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

A ten­ta­tive trial date has been set for De­cem­ber, Risling said.

De­fense at­tor­ney Ja­son Sias, who had been hired by Col­bert’s fam­ily in Ok­la­homa, said the judge urged Col­bert not to rep­re­sent him­self while de­liv­er­ing his lat­est rul­ing. Point­ing to Col­bert’s his­tory of men­tal ill­ness, Sias said he did not be­lieve the de­fen­dant should act as his own at­tor­ney.

“To­day he might seem OK, but dur­ing the time pe­riod of this trial, he may have a lapse where he can’t un­der­stand what is go­ing on,” Sias said.

On Aug. 9, 2016, pros­e­cu­tors al­lege, Col­bert emerged from a hid­ing spot near 9th Street and Lo­cust Av­enue in Long Beach and lev­eled a shot­gun at Mancera, her long­time boyfriend, Luis Anaya, and their daugh­ter, Jen­abel. Mancera died at the scene, and the young girl suc­cumbed to her in­juries at a hospi­tal a short time later. Anaya es­caped un­in­jured.

Col­bert was linked to the crime through DNA found on a spent shot­gun shell. He was charged with two counts of mur­der and one count of at­tempted mur­der last Novem­ber.

Pros­e­cu­tors an­nounced this year that they would not seek the death penalty, with­out giv­ing a rea­son for that de­ci­sion.

Dur­ing a se­ries of court hear­ings this year, Col­bert has de­manded to act as his own at­tor­ney over the ob­jec­tions of his rel­a­tives and other at­tor­neys hired by his fam­ily.

He has de­nied in­volve­ment in the shoot­ings and raised strange con­spir­acy the­o­ries in his de­fense. At one point, he claimed his vic­tims were ac­tu­ally still alive. He has also in­sisted he is be­ing framed and made re­peated ref­er­ences to the 1997 film “Gang Re­lated,” the plot of which cen­ters on two cor­rupt po­lice of­fi­cers fram­ing a home­less man for mur­der.

Pros­e­cu­tors also ques­tioned Col­bert’s de­ci­sion to rep­re­sent him­self in a court fil­ing this year, ask­ing Ro­driguez to de­ter­mine whether Col­bert was com­pe­tent to act as his own at­tor­ney. In the fil­ing, pros­e­cu­tors did not sug­gest Col­bert was in­com­pe­tent to be tried for the mur­ders, court records show.

Col­bert has not raised in­san­ity as a pos­si­ble de­fense.

Mark Boster Los An­ge­les Times

BRAN­DON COL­BERT, left, shown with at­tor­ney Ja­son Sias in May, is charged with killing a Long Beach wo­man and her young daugh­ter.

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