DeSisti ruled competent to stand trial
Bradford County president judge Jeffrey Smith has ruled John DeSisti competent to face trial for the 2006 shooting deaths of David and Carol Keeffe of Athens Township.
Smith filed an order Monday with the county Court of Common Pleas denying a motion by DeSisti's attorney, Arthur T. Donato, Jr., to find DeSisti incompetent to stand trial on two counts of murder and one count of burglary in the Nov. 2006 deaths. DeSisti, 75, of Waverly, failed to present the greater weight of evidence during an October competency hearing to prove himself unable to stand trial, Smith states in a written opinion filed with the court.
The two-day competency hearing was held following concerns over DeSisti's behavior at jury selection for his trial, which had been scheduled for April 2012. Smith ordered a forensic evaluation of DeSisti at Torrance State Hospital in June to determine whether he had a rational and factual understanding of the case and whether he would be able to assist counsel in his defense.
In his written opinion, Smith states that DeSisti's defense team failed to make a distinction between whether DeSisti was unable to cooperate with his counsel or whether he simply chose not to cooperate.
Smith acknowledges that evidence presented at October's hearing shows that DeSisti appears to suffer from some degree of dementia, which DeSisti's counsel argued had hindered his ability to participate in the proceedings. However, Smith states, "the court does not conclude that the defendant lacks either a rational or factual understanding of the proceedings, nor that he is unable to reasonably consult with counsel."
In the order, Smith references the prosecution's findings of fact and conclusions of law, filed with the court in January. One conclusion states that the issue is not DeSisti's dementia diagnosis, but whether his symptoms "are reflective of his actual capacity to participate in a trial or they are the result of basic personality traits," including "noncooperation, malingering and feigned behavior as a result of an appreciation of secondary gain."
Smith also references statements made in testimony at the two-day hearing, including members of the medical staff at the state correctional institution at Dallas, where DeSisti was housed both prior to and following his evaluation at Torrance.
Staff members testified that DeSisti's behavior changed after his counsel raised the issue of his competency. One witness states that DeSisti appeared to act normally when interacting with other inmates at the facility, but walked with a shuffling gait with his head down while being observed by staff, according to the opinion.
Psychiatrist John S. O'Brien II, who participated in an evaluation of DeSisti at Torrance along with other forensic experts, also testified that DeSisti's behavior at Dallas was, in his opinion, evidence of exaggeration of his symptoms for secondary gain. Smith's opinion states that O'Brien felt DeSisti appeared able to meaningfully participate in proceedings, but has chosen not to.
"In short, the defendant's conduct is not that of one who seeks to respond to the serious allegations against him," concludes Smith's opinion. "His conduct is that of one who simply seeks to avoid a response."
Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.