HELENA – A hearing is being held this week in Helena to determine whether the man charged in the murder of a Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office deputy should be forcibly medicated to make him competent to stand trial.
District Court Judge Kathy Seeley heard testimony on Lloyd Barrus’ mental health and medical history.
The proceeding is a so-called “Sell hearing,” named after a U.S. Supreme Court case that required a court to rule on whether authorities should be allowed to involuntarily medicate a defendant to restore them to competency.
Barrus faces five charges – deliberate homicide by accountability, two counts of attempted deliberate homicide, assault on a peace officer and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon – in connection with the 2017 death of Deputy Mason Moore and an ensuing pursuit and shootout with law enforcement officers.
Authorities accuse Barrus’ son Marshall of fatally shooting Moore during a pursuit near Three Forks on May 16, 2017. Lloyd and Marshall Barrus then led law enforcement on a nearly 150-mile chase that ended on Interstate 90 near Missoula. Marshall Barrus was killed in a shootout with officers.
Lloyd Barrus was found unfit to stand trial in June. Doctors at the Montana State Hospital reported he suffers from multiple disorders, including persecutory-type delusional disorder.
The state is asking that Barrus be given anti-psychotic medications to treat his conditions, but Barrus has refused to take the medication.
On Thursday, state prosecutors called an expert witness to discuss Barrus’ history of mental health treatment. Assistant Attorney General Dan Guzynski questioned Dr. Alan Newman, a forensic psychiatrist.
Newman analyzed medical records from 2000 through 2002 – the time after Barrus was arrested for another conflict with law enforcement, this time in California. In that case, Barrus and another of his sons had led law enforcement on a pursuit through the desert and had fired on officers, including some pursuing in a helicopter. Barrus was also found unfit to stand trial in that case and was sent to the Atascadero State Hospital.
Newman said there were obvious parallels between the two cases.
“In some ways, you had to think, ‘Am I reading the Montana records from now, or am I reading the Atascadero records?’, because they’re so similar,” he said.
Newman said Barrus showed similar symptoms at that time, including delusions and paranoia. He was involuntarily medicated at the California hospital, several years before the Sell decision. He was eventually ruled competent to stand trial and was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a plea agreement. He left prison several years early on parole.
Newman said he saw evidence in Barrus’ medical history that his symptoms improved noticeably after he started receiving medication, and that they worsened when his dosage was reduced several months later. He said that’s a reason to think the treatment may work again.
“Mr. Barrus is not an unknown patient,” he said. “He had treatment for the same symptoms, and he got better.”
Newman also said he came to the state hospital for a scheduled interview with Barrus, but that Barrus decided not to sit for the interview. He said, in his short conversation with Barrus, he saw confirmation of what others had reported about his condition, including his mistrust of authorities and deep suspicion of medication.
The hearing was expected to continue into Friday. Barrus’ attorneys were expected to call their own expert witness for rebuttal testimony.
Authorities initially sought the death penalty against Barrus, but they later declined, citing his history of mental health issues.
-Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News