Judge rules Fallon man still incompetent to stand trial | NevadaAppeal.com

Judge rules Fallon man still incompetent to stand trial

Steve Ranson
LVN Editor Emeritus

A Fallon man charged with a July murder will continue to receive treatment at Lake's Crossing in Reno until doctors deem him competent to stand trial, Tenth District Court Judge Thomas Stockard ruled Tuesday.

Two Churchill County Sheriff's deputies escorted John K. O'Connor into the courtroom at 1:30 p.m. as Miller's widow and her second-oldest son looked on.

Former New River Township Justice of the Peace Mike Richards had originally ordered a mental examination for O'Connor at a status hearing July 26 to determine if the Fallon man was competent to stand trial for murder. Almost two months later after doctors testified in court, Stockard ruled O'Connor was not competent to stand trial for killing a fellow church member.

"It looks like progress is being made on the path to competency if you see it the way I do," said Richard P. Davies, O'Connor's court-appointed attorney who has experience in trying capital murder cases.

Based on the latest report, Davies said it appears Dr. John Moulton finds O'Connor competent, but Dr. Steve Zuchowski and another physician don't.

"Dr. Zuchowski is not there yet, but doctors are confident Mr. O'Connor will find his way to competency," Davies said.

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During the September hearing, Zuchowski said O'Connor began taking an anti-psychotic medication that helps him with sleeping and his moods. Stockard, though, said at the same hearing O'Connor poses a dangerous risk to society and will continue to be housed at Lake's Crossing, a maximum security psychiatric facility providing comprehensive forensic mental health services, until he's determined to be competent to stand trial.

Stockard asked O'Connor if he had anything to say during Tuesday's five-minute hearing.

"No, sir," came his reply.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Lane Mills said it appears O'Connor is on his way to being ruled competent.

Stockard set Aug. 20 for the next status hearing, and acting on a recommendation from Lane, he will ensure Mills and Davies receive the latest report from Lake's Crossing on Aug. 12 for them to digest the information.

O'Connor is accused of one count of murder and one count of battery with substantial harm after fatally shooting Charles E. "Bert" Miller, 61, with a handgun during a sacrament meeting July 22 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on East Richards Street. Miller, a lifelong resident of Fallon, spent 35 years with the Fallon Churchill Volunteer Fire Department, rising up through the ranks to assistant chief. He was involved in many other community activities.

A criminal complaint also charged O'Connor with shooting Bert Miller's brother, Duane Miller, 64, with a handgun causing prolonged physical pain. The third count facing O'Connor is assault with a deadly weapon when he allegedly aimed his handgun at another church member.

Davies spoke after the hearing on the sidewalk leading into the court building.

"Cases like this are very sensitive," he said. "We're very meticulous with every step of the way and no sense to rush. So the judge will be very thorough and knowing John's rights are being observed."

Davies said he has a defense in this case that's defensible, and he's eager to share it with jurors. Furthermore, he said O'Connor is lucid and understands conversations with him.

"He's fully engaged and present at the moment," Davies added. "We feel we're ready to proceed with that defense although he's been languishing at Lake's Crossing."

Davies said the defense will make sense when offered to the jury.

When asked about a change of venue because of the tightness of the community, Davies said he will revisit the issue at a more appropriate time.