By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — A 21-year-old woman accused in the stabbing death of a 24-year-old man in the Town of Spring Brook in March of this year may change her plea to “not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.”
Ezra J. McCandless appeared with her attorney, Aaron Nelson, before Judge James Peterson in Dunn County Circuit Court on October 12 for a motion hearing.
Nelson had filed a motion with the court asking for the prosecution to turn over all of the relevant information in the prosecution’s possession.
Judge Peterson asked if the discovery issues had been resolved, and state Assistant Attorney General Richard Dufour said all of the information in the state’s possession had been handed over to Nelson.
Nelson said he had received a packet of information but had not yet had an opportunity to review it.
Even though Nelson said he trusted all of the information had been provided, he asked the court to rule in favor of his motion anyway.
Dufour objected to the request, and Judge Peterson said he was not in favor of ruling on a court order that was not necessary.
The prosecution is mindful McCandless has the right to a fair trial, and “we all have to do our best to have a fair trial,” Judge Peterson said.
Nelson also told the court McCandless would make a decision by November 1 about whether to change her plea from “not guilty” to NGI (not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect).
McCandless entered a “not guilty” plea May 22 during what had originally been scheduled as a competency hearing.
Judge Peterson ordered the competency evaluation for McCandless following a preliminary hearing in Dunn County Circuit Court April 25.
At the May 22 hearing, Judge Peterson said he had received a report from Dr. Donna Minter, who had “attempted” to conduct a competency evaluation.
Nelson cited Wisconsin statute 971.14(4)(b): “At the commencement of the hearing, the judge shall ask the defendant whether he or she claims to be competent or incompetent. If the defendant stands mute or claims to be incompetent, the defendant shall be found incompetent unless the state proves by the greater weight of the credible evidence that the defendant is competent. If the defendant claims to be competent, the defendant shall be found competent unless the state proves by evidence that is clear and convincing that the defendant is incompetent.”
When Judge Peterson had asked McCandless a series of questions, she had answered “yes” in a clear, strong voice.
The questions focused on whether McCandless understood the charges against her, does she believe she has the ability to assist her attorney in her own defense and does she believe she has the mental capacity to proceed.
Given the responses from McCandless, Judge Peterson declared McCandless competent at the May 22 hearing, accepted the report from Dr. Minter and sealed the report from the view of the public.
During the October 12 hearing, Judge Peterson scheduled a trial in the McCandless case in April.
Nelson indicated he would be filing a motion with the court to not use the word “victim” when referring to Alexander Woodworth.
Judge Peterson said the word “decedent” would be used.
Section 971.15 of the Wisconsin Statutes defines not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
A defendant can be considered NGI if the defendant lacks the capacity to understand that his or her conduct was wrong and is so ill, he or she cannot understand what has been done is illegal.
A defendant also can be considered NGI if the person is so ill, he or she cannot control his or her actions.
In the case of a trial where a defendant has pleaded NGI, the prosecution must prove the person is guilty of the crime, and it is then up to the defendant to convince the jury that he or she is not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
The body of Alexander Woodworth was found in a car identified as belonging to McCandless in the Town of Spring Brook March 23.
According to the preliminary autopsy report, Woodworth had been stabbed 16 times.
Bail was set for McCandless at $250,000 cash on March 29.
At the time of the October 12 hearing, McCandless remained in custody at the Dunn County jail.