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Attorneys to contest suspect's mental evaluation

by John Lynch | August 30, 2009 at 3:08 a.m.

— Attorneys for a Little Rock motorist accused of killing a pedestrian announced Thursday that they will challenge state doctors' findings that she is fit to stand trial.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey set an Oct. 26 hearing date for Janice Renee Smithwick, 34, at the request of attorney Bill James, standing in for Smithwick's attorney David Cannon.

Smithwick was committed to the Arkansas State Hospital in April for doctors to try to restore her mental faculties so she could stand trial on charges of leaving the scene of an accident that caused a death, a Class D felony, and misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide and third-degree battery. She faces a maximum of six years in prison over charges she struck Gerald Wayne Paul as the 52-year-old man walked along Pratt Road in June 2008.

Paul, who lived on the road, was found dead in a ditch about four blocks from his home. His legs were broken and he had suffered a head wound. Pulaski County deputies reported he was walking home after buying cigarettes at a convenience store where he'd been dropped off after undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

The battery charge is over an accusation that Smithwick injured a deputy who was arresting her.

There were no witnesses to Paul's death, and Smithwick said that she thought she had only hit a mailbox, despite her windshield being smashed, with blood and hair on it, court records show.

In March, state doctors diagnosed Smithwick, who is pregnant, with bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder with a history of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine abuse, and reported that she couldn't understand the court proceedings and wasn't able to assist in her own defense. Jailers at the time reported her to be aggressive, and she had to be kept in isolation for her safety after making slurs to other inmates,reports show.

Smithwick has a long history of mental health treatment beginning with a hospitalization at age 15 after an overdose and including antipsychotic treatment, court records show.

In June, doctors at the Arkansas State Hospital reported her condition had improved enough for her to stand trial, as long as she maintains her medication regimen. She was again diagnosed with the schizoaffective disorder, but the doctor also reported she seemed to be deliberately exaggerating some of her responses to the mental exam, according to the report presented to the judge on Thursday.

Arkansas, Pages 16 on 08/30/2009

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