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WJBD - Local News - Centralia Man Found Still Unfit To Stand Trial For June 2011 Murder and Attempted Murder; Discharge Hearing To Be Set

Christopher Newcomb being led to court following his arrest in June 2010.

Centralia Man Found Still Unfit To Stand Trial For June 2011 Murder and Attempted Murder; Discharge Hearing To Be Set

By Bruce Kropp

A 22-year-old Centralia man facing murder and attempted murder charges in Marion County Court is still unfit to stand trial. The ruling by Judge Marc Kelly Tuesday afternoon in the contested fitness hearing will result in a discharge hearing for Christopher Newcomb. The discharge hearing is required because the Department of Human Services was unable to restore Newcomb to fitness within one year of the crime.

State's Attorney Matt Wilzbach says there are three potential outcomes of the hearing, guilty, guilty but mentally ill, or not guilty by reason of insanity. Regardless of the outcome, Newcomb will remain in custody for further mental health treatment. However, Wilzbach says the length and type of treatment will be impacted by the outcome of the discharge hearing.

Newcomb continues to maintain that he has no memory of the incidents on June 1st, 2011 when he allegedly killed Centralia business owner Frank Augustine at his business Augustine Fotoz. He's also charged with attempted murder, armed violence and aggravated battery to a senior citizen in connection with an incident earlier that same day involving his landlord Katheryn Beard of Centralia.

Two psychologists testified at Tuesday's hearing.

Illinois Department of Human Services Psychologist Dr. N. Vallabhaneni found Newcomb was now fit to stand trial. He said Newcomb is no longer delusional and his schizophrenia and bi-polar conditions have been sufficiently controlled with medication since July. Vallabhaneni also noted Newcomb had gotten all 20 answers correct on a written test indicating his knowledge of those involved in his court case.

The psychologist hired by Public Defender Timothy Hewitt disagreed. Dr. Cuneo said Newcomb was still psychotic and delusional when he interviewed him in September. Hewitt questioned how Newcomb could meet the requirement of being able to help in his own defense when he continued to say he couldn't remember what happened the day of the murder and attempted murder. Newcomb has also continued to maintain his name is Constantine and he was born in the 1940's. Wilzbach questioned Newcomb's truthfulness, noting he had long term memory of other things including past mental health treatment and what drugs he had used.

In making his decision that Newcomb remained unfit to stand trial, Judge Kelly noted two statements from Dr. Cuneo's September report. The first was Newcomb was not able to add more information and instead became more bizarre and fragmented during the entire conversation. The second was Newcomb was very confused and seemed out of touch with reality. The Judge also noted Newcomb telling Cuneo in an October visit that he sees things and hears voices. The ruling also sites Cuneo's report about Newcomb's ability to assist in preparing his own defense being impaired by ongoing delusions and audio hallucinations.

A conference has been scheduled for November 26th to set a date for Newcomb's discharge hearing. Judge Michael McHaney will conduct the hearing, which will be similar to a bench trial presided over by a judge. Wilzbach says like a trial he will have to prove the allegations against Newcomb.

While Wilzbach argued Newcomb was fit to stand trial, he understands why the judge ruled against him. Hewitt had no comment on the decision.

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