Murder suspect may plead insanity

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— Squabbles over evidence appeared to be resolved in a Steamboat Springs murder case Friday but possible questions over the mental state of the suspect loom.

It took little more than five minutes for Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James and Thomas Lee Johnson's attorney, Norm Townsend, to clear the air regarding an evidence motion Townsend filed at the beginning of the year.

Johnson, 30, was charged with first-degree murder, first-degree criminal trespass and criminal mischief June 28 in connection with the death of Lori Bases.

In January, a frustrated Townsend filed a motion asking St. James to turn over withheld evidence to defense lawyers.

By state statute, St. James was to produce police, arrest and crime reports, as well as other evidence no later than 20 days after charges are filed.

During Friday's court proceeding, St. James assured Townsend and 14th Judicial District Judge Joel S. Thompson he has given Townsend everything Townsend is entitled to.

Townsend requested Friday to continue the motions, as he sifts through the information he has received.

At a hearing March 20, Townsend and St. James are expected to argue about possible testimony regarding Johnson's mental condition.

Effective July 1, 1999, state law requires defendants who enter an insanity plea to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the state's hospital in Denver. A defendant must cooperate while at the hospital and is subject to a polygraph test.

Townsend said his client has no intention of entering such a plea but it has not been completely ruled out, he said.

Townsend said he wants the court to define what a mental condition is and what is meant by "cooperation."

Because a prosecutor can use any statements made by a defendant during the evaluation, Townsend said he wants clear definitions before his client enters a plea to the charges during an arraignment.

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