Competency of ex-Fayette attorney questioned

| Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010

A former Fayette County attorney accused of theft four years ago should be placed in a controlled environment where his behavior and medications can be monitored for an extended period before his competency to stand trial can be determined, according to two experts.

Mark Morrison, 53, of Hopwood arrived at the courthouse Wednesday by ambulance for a competency hearing before Judge Steve Leskinen. Morrison was wheeled into the courtroom on a gurney but did not participate in the hearing that lasted four and a half hours.

Morrison was accused in 2006 of stealing about $99,000 in mortgage-settlement payments from two elderly couples. The state Attorney General's Office alleges Morrison failed to use the money to settle outstanding mortgages on two properties.

Citing numerous health problems, Morrison has successfully petitioned the courts to postpone his trial on two counts each of theft by failure to make required disposition of funds, tampering with records or identification and misapplication of entrusted property.

Morrison laid on the gurney in the back of the courtroom for most of yesterday's hearing, his eyes closed and a surgical mask covering his mouth. At various times, he would extend his right arm into the air and wiggle his fingers. About three hours into the hearing, he leaned toward one of two paramedics who accompanied him and whispered that he wanted "to go home."

Two experts who examined Morrison testified yesterday they could not determine competency for trial, but both said they suspected the Hopwood man might be faking symptoms of mental deterioration.

Dr. Brian Eberts, a psychiatrist who testified for the defense, said malingering, or faking, is just one possible explanation for Morrison's behavior. He said others include "an undiagnosed neurological event" or side effects from powerful narcotic analgesics Morrison takes for chronic pain.

Eberts testified he was unable to evaluate Morrison when Morrison came to his Uniontown office in July 2010.

"What you see is what I saw," said Eberts, referring to Morrison's condition in the courtroom yesterday. "A man who appeared quite sedated, who had no idea where he was, or who I was. I was unable to communicate with him in any meaningful manner."

Dr. Bruce Wright, a psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution, yesterday said Morrison gave vague answers to his questions when he examined him in October. Some of the answers, Wright testified, raised "red flags" of malingering, including one in which Morrison described the months of the year as "A, B, C, X and Q."

"That was bizarre," Wright said. "Almost as if he was trying to fake."

In addition, Wright said a written account contained on a hospital discharge report of a telephone conversation Morrison allegedly had while at UPMC in Pittsburgh in June raises questions.

In the report, a physician indicated Morrison was unable to talk with doctors, but was overheard having a lucid telephone conversation with a friend.

Wright described the conversation as "very revealing" because Morrison "can at times be completely disoriented ... but when nobody's in the room, he's able to carry on a clear and logical conversation."

Wright said he was unable to determine competency. Eberts testified that although he could not perform a formal competency evaluation, he found Morrison unable to participate in his defense at this time.

Both experts testified Morrison should be placed in a care facility where his behaviors and medications can be monitored before competency is determined.

Leskinen delayed ruling on the matter until at least next week, after attorneys for both sides have had time to submit additional information to the court.

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