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Teen ruled fit for trial in LR armed robberies

By John Lynch

This article was published August 1, 2014 at 2:30 a.m.

A Little Rock teenager accused of participating in three armed robberies was ruled competent Thursday to stand trial over the objections of his lawyer, who said the 16-year-old isn't able to contribute to his own defense.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza said he was convinced by testimony that Deshawn Leo-Marcus Wilburd had been heard to tell others he'd been coached by his father on what to say to appear mentally ill. That behavior shows Wilburd understands the seriousness of the situation he's in, Piazza said.

The teen is charged with attempted kidnapping and three counts of aggravated robbery, charges that together carry a potential life sentence.

Evidence that Wilburd threatened robbery victims also was a compelling indicator that the boy, who turned 16 two weeks ago, was in his right mind during the holdups, the judge said after Thursday's 90-minute hearing.

Acknowledging psychological testimony that Wilburd was too young and unsophisticated to be able to appreciate the significance of those threats, the judge said Wilburd knew that making threats during an armed robbery would get victims to go along with his demands. Piazza set trial dates in December and January for two of the cases against Wilburd.

Wilburd is accused of two holdups in October 2012 and participating in a third armed robbery in December 2012 with two other men.

His attorney, Lisa Thompson, told the judge that Wilburd, who did not testify Thursday, is not able to participate in developing his defense. She asked the judge to return Wilburd to the State Hospital for more treatment.

"I don't feel he understands the court. I don't think he can aid me," she said. "All he tells me when I go to see him in the jail is, 'I want to go home.'"

Deputy prosecutor Hannah Bone urged the judge to accept the findings of the second state psychologist to examine Wilburd, Lacey Willett.

Willett, in a January examination, found no symptoms of mental illness or brain damage that could preclude Wilburd from standing trial. She diagnosed the teen with conduct disorder, a diagnosis in a child that would correspond to a finding of antisocial personality disorder in an adult.

She testified that Wilburd's mental health was re-evaluated at the recommendation of a treatment team at the hospital after he'd been there for about three months. She told the judge that Wilburd demonstrated "special" skills at the facility such as an advanced vocabulary, the ability to repair cellular phones and an affinity for algebra.

In November, he was deemed unfit to stand trial and committed to the State Hospital for treatment on the basis of the diagnosis of state psychologist Ed Stafford, who found the teen displayed "subaverage intellectual functioning" combined with a history of aggressive and defiant behavior.

The initial finding that he was not competent was based in part on Wilburd demonstrating that he knew so little about how the judicial system works that his performance raised questions with the doctor about whether Wilburd was capable of understanding the court proceedings and participating in his defense, which are requirements for a defendant to be able to stand trial.

Stafford told the judge he was confident in that first assessment, made in September, that Wilburd could become fit for trial after completing a State Hospital program to educate the teen about the workings of the court system.

Testifying on behalf of the defense, neuropsychologist Elizabeth Speck-Kern told the judge that Wilburd demonstrated intellectual disability in her testing that caused her to dispute that the teen is fit for trial. She said Willett's findings relied on psychological tests designed for adults when Willett should have used tests designed for children and teenagers.

Wilburd was first arrested on Oct. 20, 2012, and accused of taking 18-year-old Jordan McFadden's cellphone at a Little Rock park at 14000 Otter Creek Park.

According to police reports, Wilburd asked to borrow McFadden's phone, then showed the man a gun tucked into his pants when McFadden asked for the phone back. Wilburd told police he had taken the man's phone and run but denied having a gun, saying he'd given the phone to another teenager before police arrested him.

Released on a $40,000 bond, Wilburd was arrested again in January 2013, accused of being one of three men involved in the Dec. 21, 2012, carjacking of Lakethria Johnson at Greater Christ Temple Church at 1200 Bishop Warren Drive in Little Rock.

Police arrested Cortez Jawan Smith, 19, and Kawon Profit, 18, after a police chase that ended when Johnson's 2007 Hyundai Sonata broke down, court filings show. A gun was found inside the vehicle. Wilburd was later accused of being one of the teens in the car.

Smith pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated robbery in the case in January in exchange for a 20-year prison sentence. Profit is scheduled for trial in October.

Wilburd posted $50,000 bond on Feb. 1, 2013, but was arrested 10 days later and accused of another holdup, an Oct. 11, 2012, robbery in which the victim, Cody Wilmath, 26, was robbed at gunpoint of his cellphone in the parking lot of the IHOP restaurant at 101 N. University Ave. in Little Rock.

Wilmath had made arrangements through the Craigslist website to be in the restaurant parking lot to meet a man to sell the cellphone, according to court filings. Wilburd became a suspect in the holdup through the police carjacking investigation, court records show.

Metro on 08/01/2014

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