NEW PHILADELPHIA -- The 31-year-old Newcomerstown man accused of using a hammer to beat to death his mother and severely injure his sister has been determined to be competent to stand trial.
But now, it's a question of sanity.
Tuscarawas County Common Pleas Judge Edward O'Farrell ruled on May 8 that Charles A. Plants has been restored to competency, now allowing court proceedings to pick back up after about a five-month wait while Plants was in a mental hospital.
However, there's another holding pattern as Plants will now have his sanity evaluated.
On May 8, Plants' defense attorneys, Mark Perlaky and Matthew Petit, said they will issue to O'Farrell as soon as possible a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The Forensic Diagnostic Center of District 9, a state agency in Guernsey County, will evaluate Plants' sanity. That was the same organization that evaluated his competency.
Tuscarawas County Prosecutor Ryan Styer explained competency and sanity are two separate issues that can be raised in criminal proceedings.
After an individual is evaluated by psychologists for competency and a report is written, it's ultimately the judge's decision to determine if the defendant is competent or has been restored to competency. A judge can also call for a competency evaluation to be conducted; however, that judge cannot ask for a sanity evaluation to be completed. That's up for the defense team to decide.
With sanity in question, the defendant is evaluated by psychologists but it's a trial jury's decision to determine if the defendant is insane or not. A defendant can still go to trial if he or she has been ruled insane. The jury must find if the defendant had a severe mental defect at the time of the crime and if that defect caused the accused to not know right from wrong.
If Plants is ruled to be sane by the Forensic Diagnostic Center, his defense team could seek a second opinion.
In the meantime, Plants will go back to Twin Valley Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, a state mental hospital in Columbus, where he has remained since December while being restored to competency. He will remain there on a $1 million bond.
In December, O'Farrell agreed with a forensic psychologist's finding that Plants was incompetent to stand trial after being evaluated. The psychologist also reported that Plants could be restored to competency in the future.
Plants is charged with aggravated murder, murder, attempted murder, felonious assault, tampering with evidence and obstructing official business.
The charges arose from the July 22, 2016 death of his mother, Jane Davis, 53, and assault of his sister, Cynthia Smith, 32, at their Nugent Street home in Newcomerstown. Both were beaten with a hammer. If convicted, Plants faces a life sentence in prison.
Styer has said that Plants was initially found incompetent to stand trial on a 2011 charge of taking contraband into a state facility, but was subsequently restored to competency and convicted of the third-degree felony.