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Competency evaluation ordered for Laconia teen charged with murder

Kasey Riley

Kasey Riley

The Laconia teen charged last month with murdering a fellow resident at an apartment house for the mentally ill may not be competent
to stand trial, his lawyers
said.

A judge has agreed that 19-year-old Kasey Riley should receive a mental health evaluation after his lawyers wrote in a motion last week that they had observed Riley’s “demeanor” and believe there is “a legitimate question” as to whether he can go on trial.

Riley was arrested and charged with second-degree murder June 10, just hours after 27-year-old Zachary March was found dead inside the Laconia facility where they both lived. Officials from the attorney general’s office have said Riley strangled March but have released no further information about the investigation or what they believe motivated the attack.

Prosecutor Geoffrey Ward agreed to the evaluation but declined to say yesterday whether officials from the state attorney general’s office have interviewed Riley or have concerns about his mental state.

Under state law, a person can be found competent to stand trial if they have a “rational and factual understanding of the proceedings” against them and have the ability to consult with and assist their attorney.

Riley will be evaluated by a mental health professional at the state’s office of forensic examiners. If that individual believes Riley is competent, another licensed psychiatrist will review those findings and independently evaluate Riley, according to the terms laid out in the defense’s motion.

A hearing would be held in Laconia’s district court if the defense attorneys and prosecutors disagree at that time about Riley’s mental state.

If a judge decides Riley is not competent to stand
trial, the decision wouldn’t be final, said Jim Rosenberg, a Concord criminal defense attorney.

“The court could permit medical intervention, mental health intervention to make someone competent,” Rosenberg said. “Maybe he’s found not competent now but after medications and stabilization, a hearing can be held where he is later found competent to stand trial.”

Rosenberg added that Riley’s attorneys are not making a claim of insanity in questioning his competency. He said the lawyers could use the results of the mental health evaluation in order to argue at a later date that he was suffering from a severe mental defect at the time of the crime and unaware of his actions.

An insanity defense would be made at trial in front of a jury, whereas the debate over competency is made before a trial takes place.

Under state law, without extensions being granted, Riley’s evaluation will take place within 90 days of when it was approved. Judge James Carroll granted the motion Monday, the day before Riley was scheduled to appear in Laconia’s district court for a probable cause hearing, where the judge would have decided whether there was enough evidence for the case to be sent to a grand jury. That hearing was first scheduled to take place in mid-June and has been canceled twice. It is now scheduled for Aug. 5.

The McGrath Street
building where both men lived is an independent living community for people who have experienced homelessness and is operated by Genesis Behavioral Health, a spokeswoman from the organization said. She said the residence consists of four apartments, one of which is used for communal living by several individuals.

An arrest affidavit in the case is currently sealed from public view. The Monitor filed a motion to unseal the document, which was denied with the condition that it would be unsealed if Riley is indicted by a grand jury.

Riley is being held without bail at the Belknap County jail. Tracy Scavarelli, one of his appointed attorneys, did not return a request for comment yesterday.

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or
tnadolny@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @tricia_nadolny.)

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