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Arizona man set for competency hearing

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – An Arizona man accused of killing a Utah sheriff’s
deputy is incompetent to stand trial but eventually could assist his lawyers in
a defense with the right medical treatment, a mental health expert testified
Tuesday.

Scott Curley has been charged with premeditated first-degree murder in the 2010
shooting death of Kane County, Utah, Deputy Brian Harris. The defense and the
prosecution agree that Curley is mentally ill and has a rudimentary
understanding of court proceedings. But they disagree on the second prong that
determines whether he is competent to stand trial _ can he rationally and
sufficiently help his lawyers in the case?

Barry Morenz, a mental health expert for the defense, characterized Curley as a
paranoid schizophrenic. Although he’s highly intelligent, Morenz said Curley is
guided by delusional beliefs and experiences auditory hallucinations that, with
changes to medication, could recede to the background.

“His perception of reality is much different than yours or mine or everyone
else’s in the courtroom,” Morenz said. “His perceptions of reality are very,
very strange, they’re bizarre. They’re at the end of a bell curve.”

Morenz did not come to the same conclusion, nor administer the same tests, as
experts for the prosecution.

Prosecutors challenged Morenz’s methodology and research, and said he provided
no factual basis for his conclusion that Curley is incompetent. Curley has
described the shooting consistently, saying he hid under a tree and intently
fired his gun at someone who didn’t listen to his demands to freeze, prosecutors
said. He also has told family members that he understands a possible insanity
defense and has a strategy to pursue it, prosecutors said.

Curley has pleaded not guilty in court to the murder charge, as well as charges
of aggravated assault on a police officer and a citizen, and burglary and theft.
In another sign of competency, prosecutors said Curley’s answers to questions
from two mental health experts over 14 months about whether he would take a plea
deal were consistent.

Curley responded in one interview that he’s more likely to take a plea
agreement, although one hasn’t been offered to him. His trial is scheduled for
October.

“If they offer me a lesser penalty than life, it just makes sense for me to
take it,” Curley was quoted as saying by prosecutors. “I’m guilty. If I didn’t
take an offer, I’d be a fool.”

Curley sat silent throughout the hearing, with family members seated behind him
in the courtroom. Harris’ family members and friends filled the rows on the
opposite side.

Harris, 41, was tracking Curley, who was wanted for burglary when he was
ambushed in August 2010, authorities said. Following the shooting, Curley fled
on foot into the wilderness along the Arizona-Utah border. He was captured four
days later near Kanab, Utah.M