OROVILLE — For the third time in the same case, a Chico man
who has been in custody awaiting trial some three years, was
ordered Thursday to once again undergo a mental competency
examination over his strident objection.
Criminal proceedings were suspended for James Lee Mathews,
37 — just days before he was scheduled to finally stand trial
on multiple charges of auto theft, drug possession and evading
On Thursday, Mathews, who purportedly suffers from a
cognitive condition called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity
Disorder, rejected a plea
bargain offer that would have reduced his maximum potential
sentence upon conviction from 17 to 8 years in prison.
"Just five seconds ago, I was competent enough to plead
guilty, but now you say, I'm incompetent," an irate Mathews
told Butte County Superior Court Judge James Reilley.
Mathews had twice before been declared mentally incompetent
to stand trial and both times was committed to Napa State
He had been cleared by doctors to go to trial on Monday in
the three-year-old criminal case.
On Thursday, his appointed criminal defense attorney,
Robert Radcliffe, again "raised a doubt" about whether Mathews
could competently assist in his defense.
Radcliffe said he based that concern partly on a discussion
he had recently with one of two doctors who had been appointed
by the court to determine whether Mathews was legally sane at
the time of the crimes for which he is charged.
the judge said he had no choice but to order another
mental evaluation, Reilley told the defendant if there is any
good news, it is that he would likely not have to spend too
much more time in a state hospital because he has been locked
up nearly the three-year maximum period allowed under state
Ellen Dove, a Sacramento civil rights attorney who has
brought a $3 million federal lawsuit alleging physical
mistreatment and improper medical care for Mathews in the
Butte County Jail, said she strongly objected to renewing
mental competency proceedings in the case.
She argued that several jailhouse writs Mathews had filed
in recent months should provide "ample evidence" he
understands the criminal proceedings and is competent to go to
Alleging some of Mathews' jailers have harassed and made
him a target for retribution by other inmates, Dove urged the
judge Thursday to release the defendant on his own
recognizance for his personal safety.
While he was not inclined to free Mathews, the judge said
he would consider transferring him out of the local jail if
another suitable locked facility can be found.
Dove pointed out, however, that she had made a similar
request to another judge last year, only to learn there is no
long-term secure facility in Butte County for someone with
Mathews' mental condition.
The judge vacated Monday's scheduled jury trial and ordered
Mathews to be examined yet again by a court-appointed
Further court proceedings in the case are set for Aug. 8.
Mathews' mother, who has attended all of his court
hearings, shook her head in dismay at the latest legal setback
in her son's case.
"I just don't understand this," she said.
Outside of court, Mathews' civil attorney asserted that had
another mental evaluation not been ordered in the protracted
case, the criminal charges would likely have had to be
dismissed, because the legal time period for bringing the
Chico man to trial would have elapsed.