Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green said her office is optimistic that it can prove there’s evidence to determine whether a man sentenced to death for first-degree murder was competent in 1994.
If a Kern County Superior Court judge disagrees, the case will be set for a new trial.
“We would start from square one,” Green said, who prosecuted the case originally.
The California Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that a Kern County judge violated state law by failing to appoint an attorney and allowing Christopher Charles Lightsey to represent himself during a competency hearing. In 1995 a jury convicted Lightsey of first-degree murder for the 1993 killing of cancer patient William Compton, 76, as well as first-degree burglary and robbery. He was sentenced to death.
The case will be sent back to Kern County Superior Court to determine if a retrospective competency hearing is feasible or if Lightsey will get a new trial.
“In making its feasibility determination, the court must consider the fairness of requiring defendant ... to prove his incompetence to stand trial in 1994 with the now 18-year-old evidence of his prior mental condition still available to him today,” Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote.
Green said she suspects part of the “feasibility determination” may be showing that the doctors who reported to the court in 1994 would be available to testify today. Green said from her initial understanding, those two doctors are still practicing.
“We’re optimistic that we will be able to meet that original burden,” she said.
If the judge decides a retrospective competency hearing isn’t possible, the court must set the case for a new trial and determine if Lightsey is currently competent to stand trial again, the opinion said. However, if the court decides there is enough evidence for a retrospective competency hearing, that hearing would go forward and it would be up to Lightsey to prove that he was not competent to stand trial in 1994, Green said.
While it isn’t common for death penalty cases to be sent back to Kern County, Green said this is not the first instance, recalling two other cases that were sent back to the county during her time with the office.
One of Lightsey’s attorneys during the trial, Jim Gillis, said he agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision. Gillis said his opinion has always been that Lightsey’s competency hearing was conducted incorrectly.
“I don’t believe he could stipulate to his own competency,” Gillis said.
Calls to the attorneys who represented Lightsey in the appeal were not returned. Deputy Attorney General Kari Ricci said she had no comment on the case.
During the course of the original trial, Lightsey’s mental competency was repeatedly raised as an issue, although Lightsey insisted he was fit to stand trial and said the court system was conspiring against him, according to the court’s opinion. Lightsey burned through a series of attorneys, who withdrew from the case or were fired by Lightsey.
In March 1994, Lightsey refused to speak to a psychiatrist assigned to evaluate him. The psychiatrist reported that he believed Lightsey could understand the court proceedings and was capable of cooperating with his attorneys if he so chose.
Lightsey filed a motion to represent himself, which was granted in April 1994. An attorney appointed to advise Lightsey asked the court to end Lightsey’s self-representation, saying that Lightsey showed signs of “serious mental instability.”
In July 1994, Lightsey’s mental competency was reconsidered again but Lightsey kept representing himself and picked someone to evaluate him.
A psychiatrist chosen by the court concluded that Lightsey had a manic or paranoid disorder, showed psychotic symptoms and had “paranoid thinking, persecutory delusions, [and] a false belief that there is a conspiracy against him,” the court opinion said. The psychiatrist concluded that
Lightsey couldn’t cooperate with his attorneys and was not fit to represent himself, despite his “vast knowledge of the legal system.”
A second psychiatrist concluded that Lightsey was “excessively mistrustful of the system” and had narcissistic personality disorder but was competent to stand trial, though not to represent himself because of his inflated sense of self importance, the court’s opinion said.
Lightsey was disruptive, yelling obscenities and making obscene gestures during the trial. He was gagged with duct tape and gauze at his sentencing.
The Bakersfield Police Department has previously named Lightsey as a possible suspect in the 1990 death of 4-year-old Jessica Martinez. On Tuesday, Detective Uriel Pacheco said that investigation is ongoing and that he could not comment further.