Sanity trial set in hammer attack
A jury trial on the issue of sanity is set to begin today for the former South Lake Tahoe man who accepted a 20-year plea bargain for his near killing of a Cool man with a hammer last Christmas Eve.
The estimated three- to four-week-long trial will be conducted in a Tahoe courtroom; upon its conclusion jurors will decide whether 33-year-old George Aaron Carver will spend the two decades in a state mental hospital or a state prison.
The only way to avoid the trial would be for the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office to stipulate that Carver is insane and have him shipped off to a state hospital to begin his sentence.
County Assistant Public Defender Mark Ralphs, who’s representing Carver, described the trial as a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“We’re going to bring in six to 10 doctors who all believe him to be insane,” Ralphs said. “I don’t see this as anything other than a waste of time and money and a possible attempt at escaping liability.”
By escaping liability Ralphs is referring to a recent civil suit filed against the county by Bruce Hale, the man Carver attacked with a hammer. Hale spent several weeks in the critical care unit of Sutter Roseville Hospital after the incident, which left him permanently disabled.
The DA’s Office under Gary Lacy came under fire earlier this year after it was made public that the office failed to recommit Carver to Atascadero State Hospital after he had served time stemming from a South Lake Tahoe knife fight conviction. The DA’s Office had the power to extend the term, but despite receiving nearly a dozen requests from the hospital to do so, it failed to file the extension. Carver was released and Hale was attacked just weeks later.
When contacted by the Mountain Democrat after he had left office, Lacy blamed the Carver shortcoming on an individual in the South Lake Tahoe DA’s Office, but current District Attorney Vern Pierson dismissed that allegation as being untrue, saying it was Lacy himself who was ultimately responsible since he was managing the office at the time.
In regard to next week’s jury trial being an attempt by the office or the county to avoid liability, Pierson said the two cases are like apples and oranges and have no bearing on each other. When asked if the jury’s verdict could have some indirect effect on the civil case, Pierson didn’t rule it out altogether but said he didn’t think such a connection would be made.
Pierson added that a sane verdict, which deputy district attorney Worth Dikeman will be seeking in the trial, will ensure Carver stays in custody for at least 17 years (factoring in three years credit for good behavior and work credit). He said that even though an insane verdict would result in a 20 year sentence at a state hospital, Carver could file a petition to be released as early as six months in.
“Even if it’s not six months, it could be four, five or six years down the road,” Pierson said.
“That’s just not realistic,” said Ralphs. “For that to happen the case would have go before the court and the DA’s Office would have their say before it went back to the court for a final decision.”
Ralphs said that based on the seriousness of the charges and Carver’s history of violence, he is more likely to spend more than 20 years in the hospital than less, since he would have to be evaluated and deemed safe to society prior to ever being released.
“The possibility of him spending the rest of his life in the hospital far outweighs the chances of him getting released early,” Ralphs said.
He added that Carver would also get proper treatment and medication in the hospital.
If a sane verdict is reached, the DA’s Office can still file a petition to keep Carver behind bars at a state prison upon completion of the 17- to 20-year sentence.
Carver had originally served time in state prison following the knife fight conviction but was sent to Atascadero to serve out his parole period after he was found by prison officials to be mentally incompetent.
It is unknown exactly how much the Carver sanity trial will cost taxpayers, but it has been estimated to last upward of four weeks and witnesses from out of the area will have to be flown in and housed in hotel rooms surrounding their testimony.