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DUI driver wants mental exam by third doctor

By MARY BROWNFIELD

Published: October 24, 2008

ONE DOCTOR believes Deborah King is fit to be tried for murder and vehicular manslaughter in the Sept. 2 death of 35-year-old Joel Woods, but another said she is not. On Wednesday, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Adrienne Grover said she wants the differences in opinion settled and put the matter off until Nov. 7 so the defendant could undergo further analysis.

Police arrested and jailed the 51-year-old Monterey resident after she allegedly ran down Woods with her BMW SUV as he picked up his son from Pacific Grove Middle School. Officers determined she was under the influence of prescription drugs at the time. Because King had accumulated five DUI charges in another county a decade ago, the district attorney’s office filed murder and gross vehicular manslaughter charges based on the premise she knew driving under the influence was dangerous but did it anyway.

During court proceedings, questions arose regarding her mental competency, and Monterey psychiatrist Taylor Fithian was asked to evaluate her. He found she was unable to stand trial but may be able to in the future with proper medication. At an Oct. 1 hearing during which his report was discussed, Grover decided another court-selected expert should examine King.

On Oct. 22, she received a report from psychologist Elaine Finnberg, who determined King is taking proper medication and able to understand the criminal proceedings against her.

“Rather than having a split decision and having a trial on the subject, perhaps Dr. Fithian could take a further look,” suggested Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Steve Somers. “His followup report is dated Oct. 3, and I think a lot has happened in the last three weeks.”

But King’s attorney, Joy McMurtry, said her client preferred a third evaluation by a new doctor.

“My client would like an independent evaluator,” she said. “She sees Dr. Fithian and Dr. Finnberg fairly often, and with a split decision, I’m uncomfortable with Dr. Fithian going back again.” (When ordered by the court, the $325 to $500 experts receive for the evaluations is provided by taxpayers.)

Grover opted for trying to resolve the differences in opinion between the two before calling for a third expert. She added, “My opinion is Ms. King does appear to be more engaged in our proceedings,” than she was during past court appearances.

If Fithian still disagrees after completing his investigation, Grover said she would consider McMurtry’s request.

“Criminal proceedings remain suspended,” she said. “I would like to come back on Nov. 7 at 8:30 a.m. for receipt of Dr. Fithian’s updated report and further proceedings under 1368.”

The “1368” to which she referred is the California Penal Code section ensuring no mentally incompetent defendant is forced to stand trial.