ST. HELENS, Ore. – A Columbia County judge decided Thursday afternoon that a man accused of shooting and killing Rainier's police chief is fit to stand trial.
Daniel Butts, 22, is accused of shooting Police Chief Ralph Painter in the head in January 2011. Painter responded to a disturbance call at a car stereo shop. Police say Butts managed to get Painter’s gun away from him during a struggle.
During his ruling, Judge Ted Grove said he believes Butts is faking the bizarre and aloof behavior he has exhibited during his competency hearings and is able to assist in his own defense. That behavior included appearing to pray and he often fixated on an iPad he had with him.
To support his ruling, Grove provided examples, saying Butts "appeared to be watching television and when he noted he was being observed, he altered his behavior. On one occasion at the state hospital, he quickly returned to his room. In jail he went into a prayer posture when he was observed by jail staff. It's these responses that support a finding the defendant is gaming the system."
If the judge had decided Butts could not assist in his own defense, he would have been sent to the state hospital. Now, he could face the death penalty if convicted.
Over the past couple of months Grove has heard hours of psychological testimony and poured over thousands of pages of documents.
Butts' father, Mikel Butts, was angry after the judge's decision.
"Ralph Painter started this," he said. "Daniel didn't go over there with a gun. He wasn't looking for a fight. He was sitting in a car that couldn't be stolen. The car didn't run.
The car couldn't be stolen. Ralph died for that car, because he got in a big hurry. He's a bully with a badge."
Mikel Butts said he believes his son is mentally ill and reacted violently toward Painter after being pepper sprayed.
For some reason Daniel Butts chose not be in court Thursday.
In making his decision, Grove had to look at Butts' mental health right now and not whether he was mentally fit at the time investigators say he killed Painter.
Butts' mental health was immediately called into question the same day of Painter's death.
At the time, Butts' Facebook page showed a post about losing his job. Mikel Butts said his son was an intelligent young man.
"My son has been paying property taxes and lights and water bill and a worker, and I don't know where this came from."
He later said that mental illness runs in the family. He said some relatives suffer from schizophrenia about the time they turn 20 years old.
At Butts' arraignment a year ago, his erratic behavior was seen publicly for the first time.
"No, there is no question about my fitness to proceed. I am perfectly apt and able to perform in court," he said interrupting his lawyer who was bringing up the question of Butts' mental competency.
Butts' lawyers can still decide whether to pursue a "guilty except for insanity" defense. If they do, then the focus shifts to Butts' mental state at the time of the shooting. The jury would decide if Butts was insane or criminally guilty.
There were quite a few members of Painter's family in court. After the ruling, they left quietly without comment.