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Volkmer supports bill to hold dangerous mentally incompetent defendants
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PHOENIX — County Attorney Kent Volkmer says there have been a couple of instances in which individuals charged with dangerous crimes in Pinal County were released into the community because they were deemed mentally incompetent.

Volkmer testified before the Arizona House Judiciary Committee last week on a bill that would change how state courts handle such defendants.

The bill, HB2334, is sponsored by Rep. Frank Pratt, R-Casa Grande.

The bill is similar to one that passed the House last year but did not make it through the Arizona Senate, Megan Kintner from the Arizona Association of Counties explained to committee members Wednesday.

Arizona law prevents the state from trying, convicting, sentencing or punishing someone who has been determined to be incompetent to stand trial.

Under the current law, a person who has committed a dangerous crime and been determined to be mentally incompetent by a court — and is unable to be restored to competency through treatment — could be released back into the community and possibly commit another dangerous offense, Kintner said.

The law allows for some mentally incompetent people who are accused of a crime and are unable to be restored to competency to be civilly committed to the Arizona State Hospital for treatment, she said. But this is only available for people with certain mental disorders or illnesses and the person must be willing to receive treatment. The treatment also only lasts 180 days, she said.

Volkmer said he knew of at least two cases in Pinal County in the last eight years that would fall under the provisions of the bill.

In one case, a man, who had suffered brain trauma earlier in life, was serving a prison sentence, Volkmer said. The man allegedly strangled, murdered and mutilated his cellmate.

The man was assessed and found likely to reoffend, Volkmer said. But because the man had brain damage and could not be restored, he could not be prosecuted for the death of his cellmate and was released into the community.

Volkmer said he guessed the man was probably deceased, since his office has not heard from the man or heard of any complaints against the man since he was released.

The second case dealt with a man who had a mental disorder and attempted to kill or injure any law enforcement officer he saw, Volkmer said. The man allegedly tried to stab several police officers and attempted to ram his car into officers.

Volkmer said the man swore that the incident never happened and he had no memory of it.

The man was sent to the state hospital, received treatment, was deemed no longer dangerous and released, Volkmer said.

Volkmer said his greatest concern was if the man should come in contact with another law enforcement officer, the officer or the man could be seriously harmed, he said.

Both Volkmer and Kintner said the bill was designed to protect the safety of the public and the safety of the individuals who fell under the proposed law. Kintner estimated that approximately 30 people across the state would fall under the provisions of the bill, if it passed.

If passed, the bill would allow courts to determine if someone who is accused of a dangerous crime, has been deemed mentally incompetent and cannot be restored to competency and who a court has also deemed to be dangerous to the public, should be committed to the Arizona State Hospital for treatment.

A court hearing separate from the one to determine competency would be held to determine if the person was dangerous. At that hearing, prosecutors would have to present “clear and convincing evidence” that the person was a danger to themself and the public.

The person could be held for treatment at the state hospital until a doctor and a judge determined that the person was competent to stand trial. At that point, the criminal case against the person would proceed. If the person were convicted and sentenced, the person would receive credit for the time served in the state hospital.

If a person is unable to be restored to competency at the state hospital, the person would remain in the hospital for the same length of time as the presumptive sentence for the crime they allegedly committed. For example, a presumptive sentence for second-degree murder would be 16 years.

The person’s competency would be reevaluated on a biannual basis and the person could petition the court at any time for a reevaluation. A court would have to set a hearing on the situation within 45 days of receiving a reevaluation report on the person from the hospital.

In order to keep the person in the state hospital, prosecutors would again have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the person’s competency had not changed.

If a person were deemed incompetent and unable to be restored to competency, but was no longer a danger to themself or the public, a judge would have two options. The judge could release them into the community or move them to a less restrictive treatment option.

If a judge determined the person were still dangerous, then they would stay at the hospital until deemed competent or no longer dangerous.

Two representatives, Diego Rodriguez from District 27 near Phoenix and Domingo DeGrazia from District 10 near Tucson, raised questions about possible civil liberty violations. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice have raised similar concerns about the bill.

DeGrazia asked why the bill used a clear and convincing standard of evidence to have someone committed instead of the reasonable doubt standard of evidence that is used in most criminal trials.

Volkmer said that the authors of the bill felt that the reasonable doubt standard would be too high of a bar to reach. He pointed out that people who may fall under the proposed law would receive a separate evaluation and a kind of trial specific to the issue in front of a Superior Court judge to make sure their rights were protected.

The evidence required for the hearing would be higher than the evidence required for a Title 36 hearing, which is used to judge the mental competency of a person facing criminal charges, he said.

Rodriguez stated that if the state was going to hold someone in the state hospital for the same length of time as if they had been convicted of a crime, then it should use the reasonable doubt standard.

Volkmer said the bill is not intended to be punitive. It would only be used in cases where an incompetent person was deemed to be dangerous to the public and likely to commit another dangerous offense if released.

Rodriguez pointed out that he saw no provision in the bill to allow a person or their attorney to hire their own mental health expert to evaluate them.

Volkmer said he felt that was a valid concern and he would have no objection to adding such an amendment to the bill.

Pamala Hicks, a public defender from Maricopa County who is a member of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, said the organization had similar concerns about possible civil rights violations, especially when it came to the homeless and mentally ill.

After hearing her concerns, the committee voted 6-4 to pass the bill to the House.

UA scientists start 'Bug Fight Club' to study weapon evolution
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Remember the first rule of fight club? That’s right: You don’t talk about fight club. Luckily, the rules of Hollywood don’t apply to science.

In new published research, University of Arizona researchers report what they learned when they started their own “fight club” — an exclusive version where only insects qualify as members, with a mission to shed light on the evolution of weapons in the animal kingdom.

In many animal species, fighting is a common occurrence. Individuals may fight over food, shelter or territory, but especially common are fights between males over access to females for mating. Many of the most striking and unusual features of animals are associated with these mating-related fights, including the horns of beetles and the antlers of deer. What is less clear is which individuals win these fights, and why they have the particular weapon shapes that they do.

“Biologists have generally assumed that the individual who inflicts more damage on their opponent will be more likely to win a given fight,” said John J. Wiens, a professor in the University of Arizona Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, who co-authored two recent studies on bug battles. “Surprisingly, this fundamental assumption had yet to be tested in an experimental study.”

To find out who wins fights and why, Zachary Emberts, a postdoctoral fellow in Wiens’s lab and lead author of both studies, collected 300 male insects known as leaf-footed bugs from the desert near Tucson and staged one-on-one fights.

In the summer, these bugs can be found occupying mesquite trees in great numbers, where they crowd the branches and jostle each other over access to females. The males fight using enlarged spikes on their hind legs.

So, what does a fight between leaf-footed bugs look like? The best analogy, according to Emberts, is a college wrestling match.

“They come up on each other, and they lock each other in, and they will try to squeeze themselves toward one another with their weaponized legs, and that is how they inflict the damage,” he said.

“Think of it as a wrestling match where the opponents sneak knives in,” Wiens added.

Emberts and Wiens were specifically interested in investigating whether damage influences who wins these fights. For this experiment, published in the journal Functional Ecology, they chose a particular species of leaf-footed bugs: giant mesquite bugs, a common species of the desert Southwest.

In addition to the spikes on their legs, the males also have increased thickness in the part of their wings where the spikes usually strike, suggesting that this thickening acts as natural armor during fights. The researchers attached pieces of faux leather to the wings of 50 of their test insects, to provide extra armor against punctures from the spikes of rivals.

The researchers found that individuals with this extra armor were 1.6 times more likely to win fights than individuals without extra armor or with the same amount of armor placed in a different location.

“This tells us that damage is important in who wins the fights,” Emberts said. “This had previously been hypothesized, and it makes intuitive sense, but it had not been experimentally shown before.”

The other major question the researchers wanted to investigate: Why do weapons differ among species? Different species of leaf-footed bugs have different arrangements of spikes on their legs. For example, some sport a lone, big spike, while others have a row of several small ones.

“Evolution has produced an incredible diversity of weapons in animals, but we don’t fully understand why,” Emberts said. “And if selection favors weapons that inflict the most damage, then why don’t all weapons look the same?”

Emberts and Wiens said they chose to look at leaf-footed bugs because the damage from their spikes can easily be measured, as the weapons leave distinct holes in their opponents’ wings. The holes don’t close up, so once a bug suffers this kind of damage, it has to live with it for the rest of its life.

“We can directly count and measure the holes they make in their opponents’ wings,” Wiens said, “and we find that certain weapon morphologies cause more and bigger holes.”

Submitted photo 

Two giant mesquite bugs wrestle.

In their second study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Emberts and Wiens tested the idea that the evolution of different weapon shapes is related to how much damage these weapons can cause. They measured the shape and size of hind limb spikes in 17 species of leaf-footed bugs from around the world. They also measured the average amount of damage on the forewing of each species, including the size and number of punctures from the spikes. The work was done in collaboration with Wei Song Hwang, curator of entomology at the National University of Singapore.

The results revealed that some weapons are more effective than others at causing damage to opponents.

“This tells us that much of the weapon diversity seen in animals that fight over resources and mates can be explained by how well different weapons perform at inflicting damage,” Wiens said. “How well the weaponry is performing — how much damage it inflicts in fights — is driving its diversification.”

In other words, certain blade designs provide an evolutionary edge (pun intended). But these results came with a surprise, too.

“Very different looking weapons can also inflict the same average amount of damage,” Emberts said. “This tells us there could be multiple solutions to inflicting damage.”

For example, two distantly related species of leaf-footed bugs were found to cause almost identical amounts of damage: In one species, the males carry several spines on their femur, while the other species bears a single spine on the tibia.

“This finding helps answer the question, why don’t all weapons evolve to look the same?” Wiens explained. “Rather than evolving towards one optimal weapon shape, there are very different shapes that perform almost as well, solving the mystery of why weapons look so different among species.”

The authors suggest that the basic principles that explain weapon diversity in leaf-footed bugs might also apply to other groups of animals in which different species have different weapon shapes, such as horned mammals.

Emberts and Wiens have begun experiments to tease apart the physiological reasons underlying the evolutionary cost of suffering damage from fights. They say we should stay tuned for more news from UA’s very own “Bug Fight Club.”


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Dems want Finchem expelled from Arizona House
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PHOENIX — A majority of House Democrats are calling for the expulsion of Republican Mark Finchem based on what they say are his improper actions before and during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, who is leading the effort, conceded under questioning that many of the individual allegations detailed in what was introduced at HR 2006, by themselves, might not rise to the level of her contention that the conduct of the Oro Valley Republican “was dishonorable and unbecoming of a member of the House.’’ She also contends that his activities “undermine the public confidence in this institution and violated the order and decorum necessary to complete the people’s work.’’

“When you look at these things in a vacuum, sure, they can appear random,’’ she said, But Salman argued that, taken together, they amount to evidence that Finchem “participated in, encouraged and incited the events of Jan.6,’’ making him complicit of “insurrection and rebellion’’ and therefore unqualified to serve.

Finchem declined to comment “on advice of counsel.’’

He already has obtained legal representation in connection with at least one issue not now in Salman’s bill of particulars: his refusal to turn over text messages sought as part of a public records request. His attorney, Alexanader Kolodin — the same lawyer who filed lawsuits to challenge the results of the Arizona election — argued that the messages are on their own personal devices and therefore not public.

But Kolodin also noted in a letter to the Arizona Republic that the FBI continues to investigate the incursion at the Capitol, saying even if the records were public “the threat of criminal prosecution gives rise to certain Constitutional rights that may overcome the duty to disclose otherwise public documents under Arizona’s public records law.’’

Salman said there is precedent for what she is doing, citing the 2018 expulsion of Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, after the House concluded he was guilty of violating rules against sexual harassment.

And lawmakers were prepared to take action against Rep. David Stringer, R-Prescott, over perceived racist comments. But he quit when it was revealed he had been charged years earlier with paying a minor to have sex with him.

The difference, however, is that this effort has more political overtones.

Salman is arguing it was wrong for Finchem to undermine public confidence in the election. Only thing is, there are more than a handful of Republican legislators who espouse the same thing.

She brushed aside the question, saying it should be posed to GOP leaders.

“But we’re really entering dangerous territory about whether or not elected officials have the right to lie to the public,’’ Salman said.

There’s another hurdle: It would take a two-thirds vote of the 60-member House to oust him, meaning at least 11 of the 31 Republicans would need to go along with the 29 Democrats.

Still, Salman said she believes there is enough to say Finchem incited insurrection, including his membership in the Oath Keepers which was involved in the attack on the Capitol and which she said “had the very clear intent to kill members of Congress, to kill the vice president.’’ And she said even if he didn’t enter the Capitol, he did go past the barricades around the building.

Part of her complaint is based on Finchem’s ties to Ali Alexander who has described himself as the “father’’ of the “Stop the Steal’’ movement that ultimately culminated with the attack on the Capitol. Salman said that Alexander, who is being sought by the FBI, worked closely with Finchem to get people to the Washington rally that led to the invasion of the Capitol.

Much of what is in HR 2006 is a matter of public record.

For example, he helped put together what Salman called a “sham hearing’’ at a Phoenix hotel where Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told a handful of GOP lawmakers the evidence he had of fraud in the election of Joe Biden.

The Republic has since reported that the Trump campaign paid a Finchem-owned company more than $6,000 for “recount: legal consulting.’’ Finchem said it was for “crowd control and security costs’’ for the Dec. 18 hearing.

Salman said that “contributed to the lies and the incitement’’ that culminated in the Jan. 6 riot.

And on Jan. 6, as people marched from the rally at the White House to the Capitol, Finchem sent out a picture of people on the steps — beyond the barriers — saying this is “what happens when the people feel they have been ignored and Congress refuses to acknowledge rampant fraud.’’

Then as people began breaking into the building, Finchem sent out another photo, but with the caption “Trump supporters stop Antifa from breaking into Capitol.’’ He never provided any evidence to Capitol Media Services about the veracity of that statement.

But much of what is in HR 2006 comes down to what could be considered guilt by association because of the activity of the people who did show up in Washington, some at Finchem’s behest.

“Members of the mob came prepared for violence, wearing military gear and carrying police and military tactical equipment, two-way radios, bear mace and zip tie restraints, indicating planning and coordination in advance,’’ Salman’s resolution charges. Then there are the people who brought Confederate flags into the Capitol, “a traitorous act of betrayal to the United States of America, and pipe bombs planted at the national headquarters of the Republican and Democratic parties.

Rep. Cesar Chavez, D-Phoenix, filed a separate complaint last month with the House Ethics Committee saying that Finchem’s activities in support of the riot amount to a violation of his oath of office and the U.S. Constitution, making him unfit for office. There has been no activity by Rep. Becky Nutt, R-Clifton, who chairs that panel.

And several Democrat lawmakers also have asked the FBI to look into the activities of Finchem and then-Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale in Washington. Salman said Monday the only response from the agency was that it had received the letter.

Finchem represents Legislative District 11, which includes the City of Maricopa, Arizona City, Picacho, Saddlebrooke, Oracle and parts of Casa Grande and Eloy.

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Caliche Senior Living residents excited to receive COVID-19 vaccine

CASA GRANDE — It’s been some long months for residents at Caliche Senior Living due to COVID-19, but on Friday residents were ready and eager to receive their first dose of vaccine.

“The hardest part is keeping families away from the building,” Sales Director Susan Billig said.

According to Billig, the living facility has been extremely cautious with its residents. They only leave for medical appointments and medical emergencies. Through the stretch of the pandemic, the facility has remained COVID-free.

Residents have only seen their families through virtual calls or through a window. Back in October, residents were able to see their families outside.

Billig says she is most excited to start family visitation again in some format. The facility follows federal guidelines along with guidelines from its corporate office.

Resident Bonnie Laux was ready to receive her vaccine after spending most of her days reading and taking exercise classes.

“I am just glad to get it (the vaccine), to get out into the world pretty soon,” Laux said.

Laux says that the first thing she is doing when deemed safe is to go buy new clothes.

An almost three-year resident, Glen Chase, is hopeful that after people receive the vaccine, he will be able to attend his grandson’s wedding in December 2021.

“I am excited for everyone around me,” Chase said. Chase has spent his days watching his favorite game show, “The Price Is Right.”

According to Executive Director Janae Wareing, approximately 120 people would receive the vaccine, administered by CVS during the clinic.

“It’s so exciting to get them pumped up,” Wareing said. “They are looking forward to it.”

Associates, essential caregivers and compassionate caregivers were also able to receive the vaccine during the clinic.

According to Caliche Senior Living, insurance is paying 100% for the vaccines, but those without insurance also will receive the vaccine for free.

“We’re so fortunate that our community residents are among the first to get the vaccine. The vaccine rollout is just the latest layer to Caliche’s commitment to safety during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said a statement from Caliche Senior Living.

According to Caliche, residents, associates, essential caregivers and compassionate caregivers are already scheduled to receive the second dose of the vaccine on March 5.