Acuna-Sanchez awaits further mental evaluation

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 ~ Updated 4:56 PM
Victor Acuna-Sanchez

BERRYVILLE -- Another mental status hearing was scheduled for Victor Acuna-Sanchez at his last pretrial suppression hearing on Monday.

Defense Attorney William James, who was not present at the hearing, had filed motions to request another mental evaluation at a state hospital. Public Defender Robert "Beau" Allen, who is assisting James, would not comment on the reason for scheduling more mental evaluations and status hearings.

The next mental status hearing is scheduled for Dec. 17 at 9 a.m. in Eureka Springs.

The defense previously filled several other motions, the most notable of which is an issue with evidence suppression.

"We moved to suppress his arrest everything that was found with him at the time," said James at the previous pretrial hearing. "What suppression means is it is not allowed in the trial. Basically the long and short of it is there are constitutional rights you have and if things are taken against the those rights you can suppress against those issues."

Acuna-Sanchez, of Berryville, is accused of the New Year's Eve 2012 slaying of 21-year-old Laura Acevez and was deemed competent to cooperate with his defense attorney and proceed with trial hearings by the state's psychological expert at a hearing on Aug. 1.

Before that hearing, Rogers had filed a motion to see James' witnesses and expert testimonies. The defense said they had Sanchez evaluated and found him competent to proceed as well, but Rogers said he would not be satisfied until he saw a report from James.

James is acting as lead counsel for the defense because Allen is not certified to handle capital murder cases, and federal law requires both a lead and assistant counsel in cases involving the death penalty.

Judge David Clinger was appointed to the case after Judge Kent Crow recused himself in January because Acevez and Acuna-Sanchez were former tenants of his.

Acuna-Sanchez has been charged with capital murder in the death of his former girlfriend. If convicted, he would face death or life imprisonment without parole. In addition to the murder charge, Acuna-Sanchez is accused of aggravated robbery and violation of a no-contact order. He pleaded not guilty to all counts. His defense attorneys maintain he is innocent, but refused to share any facts of the case.

"Our position is he didn't do it," James said at the previous hearing. "We are staying with not guilty. ... Plea negotiations will be ongoing."

Acuna-Sanchez has been in custody since Dec. 31, when paramedics found Acevez lying unconscious in her Eureka Springs apartment with a gunshot wound to the head and the couple's 4-month-old son near his mother's body. Deputies said they found Acuna-Sanchez hiding in a shower with a .22-caliber handgun after they kicked in the door to a cabin on Bluebird Mountain.

The medical examiner has ruled the death a homicide. A bullet found lodged in Acevez's skull was too damaged to match with Acuna-Sanchez's gun. However, investigators did determine another, unfired bullet found at the crime scene had been "cycled through the rounds" of Acuna-Sanchez's weapon.

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