Kalamazoo shooting suspect found competent to stand trial
Kalamazoo — A Kalamazoo County judge ruled Friday that an Uber driver charged with killing six people is mentally fit to stand trial.
The ruling clears the way for Jason Dalton to be tried in a shooting spree in February that also injured two people.
District Judge Tiffany Ankley made the ruling after receiving the results of a psychological exam from the state Center for Forensic Psychiatry in Ann Arbor. She said Dalton was mentally competent because he understands the charges and possible punishment against him and he is able to help his attorney in his defense.
The findings of the mental competency exam pertain only to Dalton’s current state of mind, not to what he was thinking during the alleged shooting. It doesn’t preclude him from eventually mounting an insanity defense.
“The (competency exam) process isn’t to determine whether he’s guilty or not guilty,” Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting said after the hearing.
Ankley scheduled a preliminary hearing for 9 a.m. May 20.
Dalton, shackled and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, attended the hearing but didn’t say anything.
Laurie Smith, whose husband and son were killed in the shooting, sat in the courtroom’s front row. Smith, who declined comment, wore a blue T-shirt memorializing the two victims, listing the dates of their births and deaths, and saying “In Loving Memory.”
Dalton’s attorney, Eusebio Solis, made a motion to prevent the prosecution from using Dalton’s statements to police after he was arrested. But he withdrew the motion after Getting said he didn’t plan to use the statements in the preliminary hearing.
Solis reserved the right to raise the issue again if a trial is held.
Ankley was upset that the results of competency exam were released before the court hearing. Lt. Chuck Christensen told a reporter the results several days before the hearing.
Ankley said the information should have remained private until released by the court.
“Competency is a determination by the court and the court alone,” she said.
Ankley had ordered the competency exam at the behest of Solis after Solis told the judge Dalton didn’t seem to understand the case against him.
Dalton had told investigators the shootings were caused by a Uber app on his cellphone. He said the app turned into a devil’s head and controlled his actions during the rampage.
Dalton, who is being held without bond in the Kalamazoo County Jail, is facing 16 charges, including six murder counts.
He is accused of shooting eight people, including the six who were killed, in three incidents over a five-hour period Feb. 20.
Between the three shooting incidents, Dalton drove Uber passengers around town, said police and passengers.
Killed in the attacks were Mary Lou Nye, 62, of Baroda; Richard Smith, 53, and his son Tyler, 17, of Mattawan; and Mary Jo Nye, 60, Dorothy “Judy” Brown, 74, and Barbara Hawthorne, 68, all of Battle Creek.
The other two victims, Abigail Kopf, 14, and Tiana Carruthers, 25, are recovering from their injuries.
Carruthers’ condition at Borgess Medical Center has improved while Abigail returned home Wednesday from a Grand Rapids rehabilitation facility