DeSisti Lawyers Request Competency Test
Potential jurors and members of the media left the Bradford County Courthouse in Towanda a bit confused on Monday. The jury selection for the Commonwealth vs. John DeSisti was underway by 9 a.m. and seemed to be proceeding smoothly but, within an hour, it was apparent that things had changed—rapidly.
Eighty-two Bradford County residents arrived from all parts of the county to be pared down into a 12-member jury, plus four alternates. After receiving instructions as to how they would be interviewed and how to maintain contact with the courthouse, even those who were detained as part of the first two groups of eight to be questioned were dismissed prematurely when district court administrator Mary Lou Vanderpool announced that “issues” had arisen. At that time, she suggested that jury selection would resume on the following Monday, April 30.
The sudden altering of the schedule seemed fitting for a case has been modified repeatedly since DeSisti was arrested in December 2010 and charged with the murders of his cousin Carol Keeffe and her husband, attorney David Keeffe, in November 2006. A grand jury determined at the time that DeSisti likely killed the couple with a shotgun in their Waverly home over a land dispute. The involvement of law enforcement officials in both Pennsylvania and New York state was just the beginning of a complicated case that has been postponed several times for various reasons.
The adjournment on Monday was especially surprising, however, because DeSisti was said to be in the courthouse and was soon to be led into the courtroom where the jury interviews would be conducted. Instead, members of the prosecution team asked to retrieve their coats from the courtroom and departed the building as the announcement was made.
Lauren Bozart of the state’s Attorney General’s office reported on Monday afternoon that there had been a brief delay in proceedings while “counsel discussed differences.” Nils Frederickson of the Attorney General’s office was unable to provide further information as of Tuesday morning.
Midday on Tuesday, DeSisti’s attorney and the head of the defense team, Arthur Thomas Donato, filed three court orders signed by Bradford County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Smith in which Donato had requested a competency evaluation for DeSisti, which will likely take place at about 2 p.m. on Monday, April 30 at the Bradford County Correctional Facility (BCCF), where DeSisti is to be detained in the meantime.
The first documents filed by Donato and signed by Judge Smith indicated that DeSisti’s competency would be assessed by Dr. Elliot Atkins and Dr. Richard Fischbein. The second document requested the full cooperation of staff and administrators at both BCCF and the State Correctional Institute at Dallas. According to the directive, employees at both facilities may be interviewed in person or over the telephone. In addition, “Reasonable requests for records shall be accommodated,” the cost of which shall be placed on the defendant. The final document orders that DeSisti may not be transferred from BCCF unless authorized by the court.
Bozart was unsure as of Tuesday afternoon how the recent filings would affect the trial schedule or exactly when jury selection might resume.