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Murder Suspect May Not Be Tried

Monday, December 4, 2006

Nineteen-year-old murder suspect Jose "Eddie" Tovar may never see the inside of a courtroom to answer for the alleged slaying of his own brother.

This week, a staff psychologist from the Oakdale corrections facility informed the court that after trying "intensive and multiple approaches," the mental health experts of the Iowa Department of Corrections has concluded that it is impossible to restore Tovar to psychological competence.

If Tovar is not competent enough to understand the case against him and to participate in his own defense, a trial against him will not go forward.

Jose Tovar has been held in jail since February 20, 2006, and has yet to make a plea in the first-degree murder case. He is accused of using a kitchen knife to execute his brother Miguel Angel Tovar, 21, and then inflicting multiple stab wounds against his mother and father, Jose Tovar, age 45, and Maria Vela Tovar, 52, in the home the family rented at 207 Seneca Street in Storm Lake. The parents were Life-Flighted for treatment, and survived the attack.

In June, Tovar was charged with assaulting peace officers while being held in the jail.

Buena Vista County Attorney Phil Havens said his office will have to ask the court to hold a hearing on the issue of competency. Never in his career, he said, has he faced a situation where a defendant proved impossible to restore to competency. "This is very unusual," he said.

The prosecution team was never informed of any decision being made on the competency to stand trial, according to Havens.

He said that the decision is ultimately the court's to make, not the department of correction's.

Since Havens will be leaving office at the end of the year, he said he has turned the case over to Assistant Iowa Attorney General Charles Thoman, who he has been working with throughout the process. Newly-elected county attorney David Patton will assume a role when he takes office.

Havens said that the law only allows an individual to be held for 18 months without a trial, but that does not mean Tovar will go free. If the time runs out, he could be civilly committed to a mental holding institution, Havens said.

The county attorney declined to comment over whether he felt justice was being done under the competency conclusion. "We will follow through on what is required, and let the court make the decision," he said.

Still, Havens is not giving up on the possibility that Tovar may eventually be tried for his crime.

"If this is to be believed that he is not competent to be restored to a condition where he could be tried, possibly another facility or program may be able to treat him differently to restore that competency," he said.

Earlier in the case, Tovar's original arraignment was canceled due to a snowstorm. After it was rescheduled, just two hours before the defendant was to appear, the court had handed down a decision suspending all court appearances for Tovar, after his attorney said that the suspect's mental condition rendered him incapable of defending himself.

His attorney contends that he recognized a mental disorder in speaking with Tovar about the incidents on the night of the killing, and that he is incapable of appreciating the charges against him or understanding the proceedings.

After the stabbings, Tovar allegedly went to a home down the block and entered to call 911. The residents of the home were not involved in the crime and were not harmed. Police said Tovar was discovered in the neighborhood house covered in blood, and that he had admitted to trying to "execute" the family members. The knife was also found at that time. He has been held since on $1 million bond, and a no-contact order was sought to prevent any contact between Tovar and his parents, or his brother Jorge, who was in the county jail on unrelated charges at the time of Jose Tovar's arrest.

Tovar has not attended school since the ninth grade, and was unemployed at the time of his arrest. He is a native of Mexico legally residing in the U.S., and had no previous serious arrests on his record in Storm Lake.

If tried, he faces the potential of life in prison without possibility of parole.

Police struggled to conclusively determine a motive for the crime. "When you have something this brutal, how can you ever explain it?," one officer said shortly after the murder.



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