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Judge Rules Dugard Kidnap Suspect Competent To Stand Trial

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Phillip Garrido

Phillip Garrido enters the courtroom during a previous hearing at the El Dorado Superior Court in Placerville. (AP)

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PLACERVILLE (AP) — A Northern California judge ruled Thursday that a man charged with kidnapping Jaycee Dugard and holding her captive for 18 years is competent to stand trial.

Phillip Garrido’s lawyer had expressed doubts last fall about his mental fitness to stand trial along with his wife on 18 counts each of kidnapping, lewd acts on a child, rape and false imprisonment, among other charges.

Criminal proceedings against Garrido, a convicted rapist, had been suspended since then so a jury could hear arguments next month on the competency issue. But prosecutors and the defense said in court Thursday they agreed instead to let the judge decide the matter.

El Dorado County Superior Court Judge Douglas Phimister quickly issued his ruling, based on two psychiatric evaluations, a sworn statement from Garrido’s lawyer and the report of a county investigator.

The judge sealed all the documents, saying the contents could compromise Garrido’s ability to use an insanity defense down the road if the records became public.

Garrido, 59, and his wife, Nancy Garrido, 55, are accused of abducting Dugard from a South Lake Tahoe bus stop in 1991 when she was 11.

Authorities said the Garridos kept Dugard and her two daughters fathered by Phillip Garrido confined to the backyard of the couple’s home near Antioch, which had been outfitted with tents and sheds.

Dugard and the girls surfaced in August 2009 at the office of Phillip Garrido’s parole agent after police at the University of California notified the agent that Garrido had been acting strangely on the campus with the children.

Nancy Garrido has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In addition to the 18 counts, the Garridos each face eight special allegations, including kidnapping for sexual purposes and victimizing a stranger. Phillip Garrido faces five additional special allegations related to his prior record as a sex offender from a 1977 rape conviction.

The special allegations could lead to tougher sentences if the Garridos are convicted.

Phillip Garrido’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Susan Gellman, said concerns she raised in September about her client’s ability to participate in his defense had been mostly resolved.

Gellman said both psychiatrists who issued reports on Phillip Garrido agreed that he was mentally ill but competent to stand trial. Gellman agreed with their assessments, adding that her client was currently participating in his defense.

“But competency is a fluid thing, so I would be concerned to push this (case) out too far,” she said.

District Attorney Vern Pierson said the agreement to cancel Garrido’s competency hearing before a jury would allow the case to be resolved more quickly, perhaps by the end of summer.

That would be two years after Dugard resurfaced along with her two daughters fathered by Garrido.

“She is in pretty good spirits about everything, and certainly supports and is cooperating with everything that is going on,” Pierson said of Dugard.

A trial date was not immediately set. Garrido is due back in court Feb. 28 to enter a plea.

Pierson would not say if Dugard wants to testify at the trial or whether his office is likely to offer a plea deal that would avert the need for one.

Both Gellman and Nancy Garrido’s defense lawyer, Stephen Tapson, said their clients want to spare Dugard and her daughters from having to take the stand.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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