Acuna-Sanchez to be evaluated -- again

Friday, March 7, 2014
Victor Acuna-Sanchez

BERRYVILLE -- Another mental evaluation will be scheduled for Victor Acuna-Sanchez after his defense accepted the blame for not meeting with his client before his most recent mental evaluation at the pretrial hearing on Thursday. His next status hearing was scheduled for June 2 in Eureka Springs at 9 a.m.

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, 2013.

Defense Attorney William James was not present at Acuna-Sanchez's Nov. 4 hearing, when the motion for another mental evaluation was filed. The evaluation that was scheduled did not happen by Acuna's hearing on Dec. 17, so another hearing was scheduled and the evaluation was conducted.

At Thursday's hearing, James accepted the blame for not meeting with Acuna-Sanchez before the most recent mental evaluation. Acuna-Sanchez was noted as "uncooperative" at his last evaluation because he did not understand what was happening, James said after the latest hearing. For this reason, James suggested to schedule another hearing, and Judge David Clinger ruled in favor of the suggestion.

James is acting as lead counsel for the defense and is assisted by Public Defender Robert "Beau" Allen. 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.

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

"We moved to suppress his arrest and everything that was found with him at the time," said James at another 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."

Before that hearing, Prosecuting Attorney Tony 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.

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 a previous hearing. "We are staying with not guilty... Plea negotiations will be ongoing."

Acuna-Sanchez has been in custody since Dec. 31, 2012, 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.

Court records document a string of purported attacks against Acevez, stretching back more than a year -- two of which resulted in charges. Beyond that, records are not available because Acuna-Sanchez was a juvenile. But family members said the abuse spanned Acevez's entire two-year relationship with him.

Acuna-Sanchez allegedly beat her with his fists and feet (while she was seven months pregnant with his child), brutalized her with a baseball bat, dragged her behind a car, strangled her, vandalized her vehicle and apartments numerous times, robbed her and her family and told Acevez -- in minute detail -- how he planned to kill each of her children if she should leave him for good.

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