John O’Connor appears in Justice Court in 2018.
A Fallon man charged with the July 2018 murder of a fellow church member was ruled Tuesday incompetent to stand trial because of the inability to assist his attorney with his defense.
John O’Connor, now 51, pleaded not guilty to four charges in 2019 to the murder of Charles E. “Bert” Miller at the Church of Latter-day Saints on West Richards Street on July 22, 2018. Both men attended the same church.
Senior District Judge William A. Maddox presided over Tuesday’s proceedings in the Tenth Judicial District Court in Fallon, and Reno attorney Richard P. Davies represented O’Connor. Maddox is a senior judge who’s sitting in for Judge Thomas Stockard because of a possible conflict of interest.
According to a state-appointed psychiatrist and two psychologists, their reports state O’Connor does not have the ability to understand the charges against him in assisting Davies with his defense.
“These are the state’s doctors, and we talked to them at length,” said Lane Mills, Churchill County chief deputy district attorney.
Mills said his office has discussed the case extensively with Dr. Steve Zuchowski, who first testified in court in February 2019 about O’Connor’s incompetency to stand trial. Psychologists Amy Patterson and Debbie Fletcher also reached the conclusion O’Connor wouldn’t be able to assist his counsel.
Maddox then vacated the trial for O'Connor, which was expected to begin in March.
Also at issue are several recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that focused on a defendant’s competency.
O’Connor will return to Lakes Crossing in Sparks to undergo a risk assessment for the next 40 calendar days, and a hearing is set in district court Sept. 7 to review the information.
Mills, though, said prior reports stated O’Connor did not meet the criteria for competency.
“If he ever becomes competent, we can refile charges,” Mills said.
The likely scenario, according to state law, is for O’Connor to remain in custody for 10 years and, after a review, he would more than likely serve five more years. Mills said a determination could be made to add five more years for a total of 20.
“The court reviews it every year,” Mills said of O’Connor’s confinement.
In addition to being charged with first-degree murder, O’Connor was charged with battery with a deadly weapon when he allegedly shot Duane Miller (Bert Miller's brother) with a handgun causing prolonged physical pain, assault with a deadly weapon when he allegedly aimed the handgun at another member of the church and having a concealed weapon without a permit.