HELENA – Attorneys for a man charged in connection with the death of a Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office deputy raised questions Friday about whether forcibly medicating him would be an appropriate attempt to make him competent to stand trial.
District Court Judge Kathy Seeley is presiding over a so-called “Sell hearing” for Lloyd Barrus in Helena.
The hearing is 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.
Prosecutors say Barrus’ son Marshall fatally shot Moore during a pursuit near Three Forks on May 16, 2017, and 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.
In June, Lloyd Barrus was found unfit to stand trial. Doctors at the Montana State Hospital diagnosed him with multiple disorders, including persecutory-type delusional disorder.
The state has asked that Barrus be given anti-psychotic medications to treat his conditions, but Barrus has consistently refused to take the medication.
On Friday, Barrus’ defense team questioned Dr. Alan Newman, a forensic psychiatrist who served as an expert witness for the state. Newman had said Thursday that Barrus’ medical history showed his condition had improved around 2000, when he was given anti-psychotic medications – over his protests – after being arrested and transferred to a state hospital in California.
Attorney Craig Shannon questioned how effective that treatment had actually been, pointing to some medical evaluations in the following years that he said showed Barrus was still experiencing delusions and paranoia.
He also asked whether the treatment Barrus received in California was really comparable to the forcible medication that has been proposed in Montana. In California, Barrus refused medications but eventually agreed to take them under protest. No physical force was required.
The Montana State Hospital has proposed physically holding Barrus if necessary to administer the medications in this case. Shannon suggested that additional force could interfere with the effectiveness of the treatment – or possibly even worsen Barrus’ condition, by confirming his distrust of authorities and making it harder for doctors to develop a productive relationship with him.
“It’d kind of excite his paranoia, wouldn’t it?” he asked. “It could exacerbate things a little bit.”
Shannon also questioned whether antipsychotic medication is an effective treatment in general for the type of delusional disorder Barrus has. Barrus’ attorneys have suggested cognitive-behavioral therapy would be a better option.
The hearing could continue into next week. Barrus’ lawyers have their own expert witness to provide testimony.
-Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News