With shackles binding his feet and his wrists, Lawrence Fitzgerald James stood in Lucas County Common Pleas Court and pleaded not guilty Thursday to one count of murder.
James, 24, is charged in the July 18 stabbing death of a University of Toledo student and faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Judge Ruth Ann Franks ordered that he be held in lieu of a $750,000 bond and scheduled a Sept. 7 trial date.
Court-appointed attorney Adrian Cimerman entered a not-guilty plea on James' behalf but informed Judge Franks that he may consider filing a different plea. He said after the brief court appearance that he likely will request that James be evaluated for competency and possibly a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
"He's been evaluated multiple times. I don't know if we want to keep sending him to the same place that has already formed an opinion," Mr. Cimerman said.
James is charged with the stabbing death of Casey Bucher, a 22-year-old UT sophomore.
Mr. Bucher was leaving Maxwells Brew at Bancroft Street and Westwood Avenue when he was followed by James, authorities said.
Police said James told them he asked Mr. Bucher for 35 cents and a cigarette, then stabbed him.
Mr. Bucher, who was stabbed once in the heart, called for help on his cell phone. His wallet and backpack were in his possession when help arrived.
Mr. Bucher's family, including his mother, attended the arraignment yesterday. They declined to comment.
In 2008, James was sentenced to two years in prison after committing a similar assault. He was convicted of stabbing a gas station employee after he asked the man for 70 cents.
In that case, the victim, Zachary Molitoris, was stabbed once in the back on April 15, 2008, and survived. Mr. Molitoris told James he didn't have the money, which apparently prompted the assault.
In 2008, at the request of his court-appointed attorney, James underwent three evaluations and was found competent to stand trial for the previous stabbing and was not eligible for a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea.
Initially charged with two alternate counts of felonious assault, James pleaded no contest to attempted felonious assault.
Mr. Mandros said after the hearing yesterday that if the defense is granted a request for a competency evaluation, both the prosecutor and the defendant may ask for additional examinations by an evaluator of their preference.
"Those issues of additional evaluations will have to await, one, whether the defendant makes that initial request and, two, what that first examiner opines," he said. "Because the presumption is that every defendant is competent, we're preparing to go forward on the scheduled trial date."
According to Ohio law, to be found incompetent to stand trial, the defendant must prove that he is incapable of understanding the nature and objective of the court proceedings or is incapable of assisting in his own defense.
Just because a defendant may have mental issues or is taking medication to control those issues does not legally mean he is incompetent, Mr. Mandros said.
The legal definition for not guilty by reason of insanity is when at the time of the commission of the offense, the defendant "did not know, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, the wrongfulness of the person's acts." A defendant is presumed sane and would have to prove a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea.
James' mother, De'Ann Newble, said after the hearing that her son was "really mentally ill" and that she believes he would have been stable had his doctor filled his psychotropic medications that had been prescribed for him while he was in prison.
She added that her family kept an eye on James since his June 6 release from prison. She said she did not know how he left the house.
"I do send sympathy to the [victim's] family, and I send my prayers to the family," she said. "But I also send sympathy and prayers to my son."
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