Psychiatrists: Murder suspect incompetent to stand trial

2013-12-13T11:30:00Z 2013-12-14T00:39:03Z Psychiatrists: Murder suspect incompetent to stand trialStan Maddux Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
December 13, 2013 11:30 am  • 

MICHIGAN CITY | A suspect in the brutal slaying of a retired Michigan City school teacher might be admitted to a psychiatric hospital before being tried in the case.

A hearing Jan. 23 in LaPorte Superior Court 1 after two court-appointed psychiatrists on Thursday testified Ryan Phelps is mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Phelps, 21, is charged with murder and Class A felony robbery in the 2012 beating death of Gerald Peters inside the victim's home in the 300 block of Walker Street in Michigan City.

Peters, 69, was also a former officer with the Michigan City Federation of Teachers and active in the Main Street Theatre.

According to courtroom testimony, Phelps and three teenagers took turns striking Peters with a baseball bat after taking his credit cards and vehicle.

Phelps is also accused of turning on a gas stove in a failed attempt to blow up the house.

According to authorities, Peters, who had been homeless, had been taken Phelps into his home -- but ultimately was kicked out of the residence prior to the killing.

LaPorte County Prosecutor Bob Szilagyi said defendants found mentally incompetent to stand trial must undergo evaluations by two court appointed psychiatrists.

The prosecutor and defense at the hearing discuss the findings before the judge. The judge will decide if to accept the findings and issue an order for Phelps to be admitted into a mental institution.

Defendants ruled by the court as mentally incompetent under state law are ordered into a state mental institution and stay there until deemed fit to stand trial, Szilagyi said.

Szilagyi said a finding of mental incompetency means a defendant does not understand the nature of the charges or why the criminal proceedings are happening. Therefore, they are viewed as unable to assist in their own defense.

"They need to be competent," Szilagyi said.

Martell Anderson, 17, and Melvin Basford have already pleaded guilty to their roles in the slaying and are awaiting sentencing.

No plea has been offered yet by the fourth suspect, Trevon Walker, 18, according to court records.

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