Doctor says UNR cop killer Vanisi is mentally ill

RENO - A psychiatrist testified that the man sentenced to death for killing a university police officer in 1998 is suffering from a paranoid psychosis and not mentally capable of helping with his appeals.

But a second doctor will examine Siaosi Vanisi next month before Washoe County District Judge Connie Steinheimer rules in his case.

"I do not believe Mr. Vanisi is currently competent to participate in court proceedings and in assisting with his lawyers," said Tom Bittker, one of two psychiatrists asked by the court to conduct a psychiatric assessment on Vanisi.

Appellate Deputy District Attorney Terry McCarthy said regardless of the findings, he does not believe a convicted criminal must be deemed mentally competent during the appeals process.

"Vanisi is no longer an accused person," McCarthy said after Thursday's hearing. "I believe (Bittker) applied the wrong standard" in determining competency.

Vanisi, 34, was found guilty in 1999 of attacking University of Nevada, Reno police Sgt. George Sullivan with a hatchet in his patrol car. After the killing, Vanisi used the officer's gun to rob two convenience stores and steal a car.

The Nevada Supreme Court confirmed his conviction and death sentence in 2001. The next step in his appeals process was to challenge issues from his trial in district court.

But when his lawyers, Scott Edwards and Thomas Qualls, tried to meet with Vanisi in Ely State Prison to work on his case last June, Edwards said his "mental state and erratic behavior prevented counsel from obtaining any meaningful assistance toward preparation of his petition."

"He would snort. He took off his clothes. He spoke of himself in the third-person. He stated he was an independent sovereign. He said he wanted to be Dr Pepper," Edwards said.

"There's psychosis there just look in his eyes," the lawyer said.

Steinheimer ordered the two evaluations after the lawyers asked the court in November to delay Vanisi's case until he is found to be mentally competent.


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