In a hearing Friday, the defense attorney for Cortez murder suspect Jeremiah Damron announced plans to challenge the findings of two mental health evaluations declaring Damron competent to proceed.
Damron was arrested July 20 after his mother’s body was found apparently beaten and burned to death in his backyard. In October, he was ruled mentally incompetent to participate in his defense, but since then, two mental health evaluations through the Colorado Department of Human Services have declared him competent. Defense attorney John Moran said Friday he plans to challenge the latest evaluation, which was delivered to the court June 19, in a hearing in August.
A preliminary examination after Damron’s arrest showed he had severe mental health issues, which his defense has argued would prevent him from effectively participating in court proceedings. He was sent to the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo this year for treatment, and an evaluation completed in March said he could proceed. Moran requested a second evaluation, which was completed by Durango psychologist John Ragsdale in June. District Attorney and prosecutor Will Furse said it also showed Damron to be competent.
Furse said both mental health evaluations are sealed from the public.
District Judge Todd Plewe said it will be up to Furse and his office to prove Damron’s competency. Witnesses including Ragsdale and Susan Coykendall, who completed the first evaluation, will be allowed to appear, via video conference call if necessary.
Competency hearings typically are required to be held within 35 days of a request or the delivery of an evaluation, but Damron and Moran agreed to waive that requirement to accommodate lawyers’ schedules.
Damron faces a charge of first-degree murder, which carries a minimum sentence of life in prison and a maximum sentence of death. His competency hearing will be held in Montezuma County District Court on Aug. 1 at 9 a.m.