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Arson suspect may not understand plea deal

A defendant who could have been out of jail by taking an arson plea deal instead faces more incarceration and a mental capacity evaluation.

Josephine County Circuit Judge Thomas Hull ruled Thursday that Joseph David Carrero, 28, must be examined to determine whether he is capable of taking a deal or standing trial.

Carrero was arrested June 30 for a trailer fire on the Fir Canyon Road property where he lives with his mother. Thursday marked his 42nd day in the Josephine County Jail. The plea bargain offered by the Josephine County District Attorney's Office reduced the charge to second-degree arson, carrying a likely sentence of 20 days in jail.

Carrero has already signed the plea deal, but his court-appointed attorney, Charlie Stoll, now says he's not sure his client understood the terms of the bargain and he isn't comfortable signing the deal himself.

Accepting it would brand Carrero a felon, with related impacts on job prospects and financial aid applications. Stoll said he was torn between supporting his client's desire to get out of jail and not letting him plead guilty when it isn't clear whether he understood the implications.

Stoll expressed concern that Carrero would continue to be stuck in jail while the evaluation was done and asked the judge to set him free during the process.

"It is my conviction that my client does not pose any danger to the public," he said.

Prosecutor Anne Marie Turner argued against it.

"The state would object to any release on the part of the defendant," she said.

Hull agreed, noting that he was concerned about an increase in severity of incidents involving Carrero, whose past record includes theft. His aunt, Sue Wright, was present in the courtroom at the jail and offered that the past case had been related to the theft of a box of Girl Scout cookies.

Hull noted that Carrero, whose IQ is an issue with respect to his ability to understand matters, has issues with schizophrenia.

The judge had a conversation with Carrero, who offered limited responses, including when asked whether he understands about being guilty or not guilty.

"I'm not sure," he said. "I'm confused."

When the judge asked why, he said, "I'm just confused about where I'm going to go."

Hull told Stoll he may not have accepted a plea bargain from Carrero, anyway. Judges ask a series of questions to make sure people understand a plea bargain and weren't pressured into it.

"I appreciate what you want to do" about pre-trial release, Hull told Stoll, but Carrero must be evaluated.

The deputy district attorney was concerned because Carrero hadn't waived his right to a speedy trial — by law, the case must go to trial in 60 days — but the judge said that he wasn't sure he would allow the defendant to do that, either. Under the law, a competency evaluation pauses the countdown on a speedy trial.

Stoll sought assurances that Carrero wouldn't just be sent to the Oregon State Hospital on a psychiatric hold without an additional hearing, but the judge said he would have to see the results of the evaluation before deciding the next step.

After the hearing, Stoll explained that if Carrero isn't found to be competent, the law would allow for him to be treated so that he could become competent. However, Stoll is concerned that the issue might be basic intellectual ability that wouldn't be treatable.

He was worried about the potential for a psychiatric commitment, if he's ruled dangerous, that could be as long as the maximum prison sentence of nine years for arson.

Carrero's aunt, who had come expecting to take her nephew away from jail, said it didn't make sense to her because he isn't a danger to anyone.

Reach reporter Patricia Snyder at 541-474-3806 or psnyder@thedailycourier.com.