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Judge rules accused fit for murder trial

A murder trial is set to resume June 23 in B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo after the accused was found fit to stand trial, despite remaining mute and failing to participate in proceedings.

Robert James Iverson was arrested and subsequently charged with first-degree murder of Cheryl Lynn Sim in December 2010. Despite being represented by legal counsel prior to the trial, he eventually chose to represent himself when it began last September. He remained silent, staring out the window and failed to cross-examine witnesses or review any exhibits provided to him.

The trial was delayed as two fitness assessments were ordered by Judge Robert Punnett. The second, a 60-day assessment, saw Albert King, an experienced criminal lawyer, appointed to represent Iverson. But again, the accused refused to confer, prompting Punnett to hold a fitness trial, where the psychiatrist who prepared the assessment was called to testify, according to Basil McCormick, Crown counsel.

Iverson was unwilling to be examined by psychiatrists during assessment but despite that, his history of substance abuse, head trauma and the possibility of bipolar disorder, Punnett found him fit to stand trail.

Punnett stated Iverson presented an unusual case, but ruled Iverson is able to distinguish between court proceedings and related matters outside of proceedings. According to Punnett, his mutism is selective as it was noted that he would speak to people not associated with the trial, such as inmates at a correctional facility and other patients at the psychiatric hospital.

“There is no evidence to indicate that he is not aware of what he is charged with. There is no evidence that he does not understand the role of the judge, prosecutors or defence counsel or the amicus curiae (counsel appointed by the court to assist the court in legal matters),” said Punnett in his ruling.

“While he made a number of seemingly illogical comments during the pre-trial proceedings, he also responded to and appeared to understand the discussion about the role of, and the need for, representation.

“Nor is there evidence that he does not understand the serious nature of the proceedings or the potential outcomes.”

Punnett also stated that evidence indicates that Iverson interacts with others inside and outside the courtroom selectively, making “a choice whether to respond to others depending on the circumstances. The evidence does not, on the balance of probabilities, establish that such choices are the product of a mental disorder or that a mental disorder is reason for his mute behaviour.”

Punnett concluded that Iverson’s muteness is more likely voluntary than a product of mental illness.

While it was unwise for Iverson not to have legal representation, legally, it does not make him unfit to stand trial, Punnett ruled.

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