Suspect to stand trial following mental exam

Artives Freeman, whose first-degree murder trial was abruptly halted in May after he entered the courtroom dressed in a suit and tie and covered in his own feces, has been declared competent to stand trial.

Freeman was sent to a mental hospital for an examination. A psychologist concluded he is not mentally ill but had been feigning symptoms of mental illness.

The 24-year-old Charlottean, accused of killing a 46-year-old female acquaintance in April 2006 after an argument, is scheduled to go on trial today. Latahnya Watt Berry was shot to death in a house in the Regal Heights neighborhood in west Charlotte.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Freeman, who has spent more than two years in jail awaiting trial, would be sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Superior Court Judge Albert Diaz, who will preside over the murder trial, declared Freeman competent following a hearing in July. But not before Freeman acted out again in a holding cell while waiting to appear in court for the competency hearing.

“Despite being placed in restraints, defendant again spread feces over his face and body and affixed toilet paper to his head,” Diaz wrote in his order declaring Freeman competent. “The bailiffs returned defendant to the main jail where he was cleaned up and transported back to the courthouse.”

After Freeman's courtroom appearance on the first day of his trial in May, Superior Court Judge James Morgan questioned his capacity to proceed and noted the defendant's history with mental health problems.

The judge also questioned the soundness of Freeman's decision to represent himself against the murder charge – even after being repeatedly told about the difficulties he may face in court.

Freeman did not respond to the judge's inquiries.

Morgan ordered Freeman committed to Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh for an evaluation to determine if he's competent to stand trial.

In his order following the resulting competency hearing, Diaz wrote that Freeman never exhibited observable symptoms of mental illness while being examined by Dr. David Hattem, a psychologist at the mental hospital.

“The results of the testing suggested to Dr. Hattem that defendant was in fact feigning symptoms of mental illness,” the judge wrote.

In April, defense lawyer Eric Bach, who was representing Freeman, notified prosecutors that he was considering a defense that his client suffers from “mental infirmity” and “diminished capacity” because of mental retardation.

During the July competency hearing, Diaz tried to question Freeman about his rights to a lawyer and whether he still wanted to defend himself during the trial. Freeman, the judge wrote, refused to respond.

Diaz wrote that available information suggests that, while Freeman's intellect is significantly below average, the psychologist said the defendant is not mentally retarded.

Diaz did decide Freeman is not capable of representing himself. The judge ordered that defense attorney Eric Bach be reappointed to defend him.

Freeman's competency may come up again during the murder trial.

“Although the court has determined that defendant is competent to proceed to trial,” Diaz wrote in his order, “Mr. Bach remains free to re-visit that issue as the case progresses.”