We’re not sure if there’s any such thing as “good news” when a murder trial starts going forward - after all, one man’s dead, and another is looking at life without parole - but such is the nature of justice and punishment, both of which are sorely needed in Parkersburg, Iowa.
That’s where, earlier this summer, venerated head coach and community leader Ed Thomas was allegedly gunned down by a troubled ex-player, Mark Becker. Despite the relatively easy identification and apprehension of Becker shortly thereafter, Becker has pled not guilty to the the first-degree murder charge, which will mainly serve to make this situation more difficult for all parties involved, and his attorney was angling for Becker to be declared unfit to stand trial. That didn’t happen, though, as a judge has just ruled Becker will face trial after all.
The case was put on hold pending a mental competency ruling after experts agreed Becker, who once played for Thomas, hallucinates and suffers from paranoid schizophrenia but differed on whether he was mentally fit to stand trial.
The judge said Becker’s paranoid schizophrenia is “undisputed” but that an increased dosage of an anti-psychotic medication, along with findings of the prosecution’s psychiatrist, lead him to believe Becker can understand the trial proceedings.
“The evidence indicates that Mr. Becker has sufficient ability to recall events which will be pertinent to his defense,” Carroll wrote in the order. That includes Becker’s ability to recall June 24, when Thomas was shot to death in the high school weight room in front of more than 20 students.
There are two things to keep in mind here. The first is that this does not take away the possibility of a “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdict. This is merely establishing that Becker, mental illness and all, can actually stand trial.
The second is that there’s nothing good about being declared criminally insane; that verdict doesn’t mean Becker can walk free. It means he gets sent to a psychiatric facility for lord knows how long, and the fact that he killed a guy means the prospect of release isn’t going to be easily available.
And above all this, it’s not like he’s been declared not guilty yet. As the article said, Becker clearly recalled the events of the day, up to, including, and after the killing. He could very well be sentence to life in jail just yet. Let’s not panic quite yet.