Man Found Incompetent in Wife's Death
A Superior Court judge ruled late Thursday that a Carthage man charged with killing his wife is incompetent to stand trial.
Defense attorney Robert Trenkle had asked the court to find that his client, Gale Lynn Frye, 67, is too mentally deficient to be tried for the murder of his 76-year-old wife, Bertha Frye.
Judge Joseph E. Turner found Frye’s mental deficits — as established by testing at Central Regional Hospital — too severe for him to get a fair trial, because he would not be sufficiently able to work with attorneys in court.
Demonstrated “brain insults” and “deficits in the frontal lobe” would interfere too much with brain processes, according to Turner’s findings of fact.
“They clearly indicate an inability to process and the ability to problem-solve needed for him to assist in trial,” Turner said. “This has been clinically diagnosed as dementia by an expert witness.”
He ruled that Frye was competent to understand the nature of proceedings but unable “to assist his counsel in a reasonable and natural manner.”
Turner found Frye incapable of proceeding and ordered the defendant “to be remanded to appropriate treatment and care and — if found competent at a later time — to be returned to Moore County to be tried for the murder.”
In a separate order, Turner directed the sheriff to seize and hold all firearms pending further order of the court. He revoked Frye’s concealed carry permit “at this time.”
Frye’s firearms had already been seized. They will remain in the custody of the Carthage Police Department as evidence to be used at any later trial “so as to retain the chain of custody” upon request by District Attorney Maureen Krueger.
In a hearing that began Wednesday afternoon and continued almost to the end of the day Thursday, two forensic psychologists had testified to different expert opinions. One said Frye isn’t competent, the other said he is. The burden of proof is on the defense in such hearings, so the first expert witness was called by the defense.
Dr. Claudia Coleman told Turner that — in her expert opinion — Frye’s wandering attention, his low IQ of 73 and other mental deficits would interfere with his ability to assist counsel at trial in his defense.
Frye was examined by a number of mental health professionals. Coleman said she had seen their reports, but disagreed with conclusions others reached that Frye was competent to stand trial.
“I have reservations about his ability to form judgments that would be required,” she said. “He doesn’t seem to remember relevant issues of his case that his attorneys told him. He still doesn’t get the relative weight of things like his own statements, what witnesses said against him. I think he understands the facts, but doesn’t understand the relative weight of certain factors — keeping your gun rights versus spending the rest of your life in prison.”
Frye reported the killing himself. Carthage police responded to a 911 call Feb. 12, 2010, from Frye, who asked EMS to come and “resuscitate” his wife. When paramedics reached the Frye residence at 396 Simpson Road in Carthage, they found Bertha Frye already dead from a single gunshot wound to the head, authorities said.
After questioning him at the home and at the Sheriff’s Office, police officers arrested Frye and charged him with murder. He made a statement at the Sheriff’s Office, which was videotaped.
After several hours of interrogation, Frye confessed to shooting his wife in that interview, authorities said at the time. Coleman testified she’d viewed part, but by no means all, of that recorded interview.
District Attorney Maureen Krueger called Coleman’s conclusions into question during cross-examination.
The defendant understood the difference between a plea bargain and a trial, knew he would have a jury, knew he had family support in the area, Coleman acknowledged under Krueger’s cross-examination. She testified that Frye understands he could go to a hospital instead of a prison, but was not sure how well he understands the issue of competency.
“It is my understanding that he would, yes,” she said.
Coleman said she was unsure whether his wandering attention would interfere. In jail, Frye has been pleasant and cooperative, she testified.
“Mr. Frye is probably the least likely inmate to set off someone,” she said. “He is pretty passive. He has adapted well to a structured situation.”
Coleman said Frye did not want to be found incompetent, because he is concerned about losing his right to bear arms. He raises hunting dogs and has earned money from that. He could continue raising and training them without using firearms, but has been very concerned about losing his weapons, she said.
The night he was arrested, he talked about other weapons in the house, according to testimony based on what she’d seen in the videotaped interview.
“When talking with me, he was actually concerned with the right to keep his guns and keep his home to the exclusion of his case,” she said. “He expressed concern that 20 or 30 years (at his age) would be a life sentence.”
Chief Assistant District Attorney Peter Strickland called Dr. Nancy Laney to testify for the state. Laney had interviewed Frye during his 47-day stay in the state mental hospital.
She said she found Frye surprisingly knowledgeable. He could remember dates, even distant dates like the day he graduated from high school. Laney expressed doubts about tests given so soon after Frye’s last drinking bouts
“The ‘why’ might be that he’s been drinking for a long while,” she said. “Maybe we need to let his brain ‘dry out’ for a while. Maybe he was tested too soon. He wasn’t real good at reading, he said; but he could memorize, and that’s what got him through school. I know his IQ is better than a 73.”
Strickland went one by one asking whether Frye understood various rights: right against self-incrimination, the right to confront witnesses against him, and others. In each case, Laney said it was her expert opinion that Frye did understand each of these rights and is able to help his attorney with his offense.
He asked Laney what her opinion was of Frye’s capacity to proceed to trial. She said he did not demonstrate symptoms of a mental illness or defect.
“He is currently viewed as capable of proceeding to trial,” Laney said.
Turner had a question of his own.
“I don’t see that you did any testing for mental deficits,” Turner said. “You simply went by the testing of Dr. Coleman?”
Laney said that was correct.
“This is a man incapable of doing a test where you look at two stars and decide if they are the same, but he is capable of evaluating evidence of the sort we expect in a first-degree murder trial — of hearing a witness and saying that is not right, you need to talk to so-and-so,” Trenkle said, summing up the defense presentation. “This is not about whether he will have a gun — it is about whether he will die in prison. He is not capable, and I ask you to find that.”
Turner, following a long afternoon recess, agreed with the defense.
Frye was remanded to Butner, which is like any involuntary commitment, Laney said afterward. His abilities will be reviewed at 30, 60 and 90 days and periodically thereafter. At any point, he could be found competent and returned to Carthage for trial.
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
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