Damron was undergoing an evaluation through the Colorado Department of Human Services in preparation for a hearing scheduled for Wednesday that was meant to determine whether he was mentally competent to participate in future hearings. But at the hearing, Montezuma County District Judge Todd Plewe said he had received a message from the department’s Office of Behavioral Health the day before saying that the state would not have results from the evaluation until after Oct. 31.
Plewe ordered Damron to be evaluated at the Montezuma County Detention Center if possible, instead of the Colorado Mental Health Institutes in Pueblo, and rescheduled the competency hearing for Oct. 17 at 2 p.m.
Damron’s preliminary hearing, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 22, is now set for Nov. 6 at 9 a.m.
Damron, 36, was arrested July 20 on suspicion of homicide after the body of his mother, Kristie Damron, was found in his backyard on County Road 21.75. He was charged with first-degree murder on July 28 and is being held at Montezuma County Detention Center, with a protection order that forbids contact between him and several immediate family members. A first-degree murder charge carries a minimum sentence of life in prison and a maximum sentence of death.
When charges were first filed against him, both prosecuting attorney Will Furse and Damron’s public defender said they had concerns about Damron’s mental ability to assist in his own defense. But on Wednesday, defense attorney John Moran said he no longer has those concerns.
“It is our perception that Damron has improved substantially,” he said. “His mental health was at a crisis point in July.”
He said that when charges were first filed against Damron, his mental health was so poor that it was difficult to communicate with him, but as of Wednesday, he seemed to clearly understand what was being said to him.
Moran said the delayed competency evaluation from the state was a “source of frustration” to the defense, and he asked that the preliminary hearing be allowed to go forward without an evaluation.
Furse disagreed, saying he still had the same concerns about Damron’s mental health that he had in July.
Plewe allowed Moran to talk privately with Damron’s family members and with Furse before making a formal objection to the competency evaluation.
But at the end of the hearing, Plewe said he still believed it was necessary to determine the defendant’s competency before his preliminary hearing. He said he would investigate whether it would be quicker to evaluate Damron in Montezuma County, and would do his best to speed up the process.
Delays in evaluations at the state level aren’t unusual, he said.
“I think we all know they’re underfunded,” Plewe said.
“It’s not always this long, but in almost every case I’ve had, there’s been some delay.”
He said the case was too important for him to overlook Damron’s mental competency, and he didn’t have enough information to make his own preliminary finding on the issue. But he said he still hoped the evaluation would be complete in time for the new hearing date.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Plewe also modified Damron’s protection order to allow written communication between him and his son, at the son’s request. He is not allowed to communicate with other family members.
This article was reposted on Sept. 8 to correct the name of Damron’s defense attorney. It was John Moran.