Court directs Toquerville murder defendant to state mental hospital

Ed. note: Clarification to the video top of the story, the car police tracked Canfield in was allegedly stolen from Geraldine Bommerito.

ST. GEORGE – Murder suspect Joshua Canfield was declared incompetent in 5th District Court Thursday and ordered to be sent to the Utah State Hospital for treatment. The ruling comes as a stipulation after three witnesses sought for the hearing – namely three mental health experts who evaluated Canfield – failed to appear due to scheduling conflicts.

Joshua David Canfield booking photo from March 2014 |photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff's Office
Joshua David Canfield booking photo from March 2014 | Photo courtesy of Washington County Sheriff’s Office

The hearing, slated to take at least half a day, was cut short following a nearly 30-minute discussion had between the judge, the prosecution and the defense, which took place outside of the courtroom.

Following the meeting, 5th District Judge John J. Walton stipulated Canfield be sent to the state hospital and that he be sent to the front of the facility’s waiting list.

Individuals who are found incompetent by the court are admitted to the hospital as space becomes available, which often leads to a five-six month wait.

Canfield, 18, is accused of killing 58-year-old Toquerville resident Geraldine Bommerito in March 2014.

Thursday’s hearing was to be the state’s response to the defense’s challenges toward the three mental evaluations. The three doctors who conducted the evaluations – two ruling Canfield competent and one not – were to appear in court, yet the prosecution was unable to arrange for them to appear at the same time.

Deputy Washington County Attorney Zachary Weiland said he was unable to get all three doctors together on the same day due to conflicting travel plans. As they wouldn’t be available for cross-examination, he agreed to have Canfield sent to the state hospital.

The state believes Canfield will be restored to competence in short order, though also argues he is already mentally sound enough for the case to move forward.

I believe Mr. Canfield is competent and we are ready to proceed,” Weiland said, adding, “Regardless, we want the court to know he is competent. Let the Utah State Hospital determine his competence.”

Edward Flint, Canfield’s attorney, disagrees with Weiland’s assessment of his client’s mental status.

“He needs to go to the state hospital where he can get a more complete medical and mental evaluation,” Flint said.

Concerning Canfield’s prior mental evaluations, Flint said he has issues with their findings. Flint had an expert for the defense, Dr. Gary Thompson, review the three evaluations. Like Flint, Thompson believes there are problems in the reports.

There are major concerns with all three reports with the ability to adequately assist the court,” Thompson said.

The processes the three evaluators used are in question, Thompson said. The reports also don’t meet state and federal standards, he said, and are deficient in their findings.

“We believe there are deficiencies,” Weiland said.

Though not a clinical psychologist, Thompson has degree in forensic psychology and is the director of clinical training at the EarlyLife Child Psychology and Education Center in South Jordan. Thompson said part of what he does involves reviewing mental evaluations performed by center staff for process and efficacy on a routine basis. Both Thompson and Flint noted this is the first time he has reviewed evaluations related to a criminal case.

Though he has expressed views critical of the Utah State Hospital and some of its practices in this and other cases, Flint said it was a better spot for his client than the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility.

Canfield has been kept in solitary confinement for 14 months since his arrest. During that time, he has attempted suicide multiple times, Flint said.

Flint previously stated his client wanted to be declared competent just so he could get away from his current state of confinement.

We went through all of this just to get him to the state hospital,” Flint said.

Though Canfield will be sent to the state hospital, Flint expressed frustration with how the matter has unfolded. He said the Washington County Attorney’s Office didn’t make him aware that the three doctors wouldn’t be appearing in court until yesterday – while his witness was already on the road. The prosecution also had at least a month to contact the evaluators and arrange the court appearances, he said, and that apparently didn’t happen.

Canfield allegedly killed Geraldine Bommerito during a residential burglary on March 19, 2014. According to court records, he allegedly stole Bommerito’s car, two guns and some collectible coins, which he later used at a gas station in Washington City. The action raised suspicion, and police were contacted about the incident. Authorities were given a description of the car Canfield was driving, and that led them to Bommerito’s home.

Police tracked the car, and Canfield, to Springdale. The car had been abandoned and torched near the resort town. Canfield was found and was allegedly combative with officers when taken into custody. At one point, he attempted to harm himself and was placed on suicide watch for a time after being incarcerated at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility.

Canfield has been charged with nine felonies and three misdemeanors in relation to the case.

Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

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