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Judge rules Indiana man now competent to stand trial in mother's 2015 beating death

Paul Peirce
| Thursday, June 14, 2018, 12:33 p.m.
Todd Walters is escorted from District Judge Guy Haberl's Office in Indiana on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Walters is accused in the bludgeoning death of his mother, a retired Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Todd Walters is escorted from District Judge Guy Haberl's Office in Indiana on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Walters is accused in the bludgeoning death of his mother, a retired Indiana University of Pennsylvania professor.

An Indiana County judge ruled this week that a 39-year-old Indiana man accused in the brutal 2015 beating death of his mother, a retired professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is now mentally fit to stand trial.

President Judge William Martin ruled that Todd R. Walters, who has been undergoing treatment at Torrance State Hospital in Derry Township for more than a year, is now competent to stand trial in connection with the Feb. 20, 2015, death of 72-year-old Ruth Shirey at her home on Diamond Avenue in Indiana. Martin ordered attorneys to begin preparing to proceed with the case.

Shirey was a 37-year geography professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and was involved in the county's Democratic Party committee.

Since Walters' arrest in Altoona in Blair County, the day after the homicide, he has undergone numerous mental health evaluations and competency hearings, resulting in several involuntary committals to Torrance.

“Hearing of (Walter's) court-ordered involuntary treatment to restore competency and upon due consideration of the testimony and submissions of counsel, it is hereby ordered and directed ... the court finds that the defendant is competent to proceed in his criminal case,” Martin wrote in an order.

Martin also ruled that Walter's commitment to Torrance will continue until further ordered.

“The commitment is necessary to maintain the Defendant's competency until the criminal case is concluded,” Martin wrote.

Martin said that the hospital's psychiatric staff will continue to review Walter's competency and will provide reports to Martin and attorneys affiliated with the case including District Attorney Patrick Dougherty every 60 days.

Martin ruled that if Walters' attorney, Leonard G. Ambrose III of Erie, plans to file a notice of defense of insanity or mental infirmity, it must be done by July 13.

In April 2016, prior to the most recent stay in the case, District Judge Guy Haberl in Indiana ruled during an hour-long preliminary hearing that there was sufficient evidence for Walters to stand trial for criminal homicide and aggravated assault.

Walter's father, Royce, testified at that hearing that Walters had been acting paranoid and suspicious in the months after he stopped taking medication prescribed for mental health issues.

Royce Walters testified that on the night Shirey was killed, he had been watching television with her when his son threatened to punch him. He said he thought he could defuse the situation by leaving the home at 11 p.m.

Investigators believe after he left, his son bludgeoned to death his 72-year-old mother at her Diamond Avenue home and fled in her car before being arrested the next morning in Blair County.

Borough detectives said Walters' DNA was retrieved from Shirey's fingernails following her death.

Haberl also heard evidence at the hearing that two psychiatrists who evaluated Walters determined he has schizophrenia.

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2860, or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.

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