Murder suspect found competent for trial

MARIETTA – Accused murderer Mark F. Stevens was declared competent to stand trial Friday in Washington County Common Pleas Court after his lawyers withdrew their request for more testing.

Stevens, 48, of 285 Bells Run Road, Newport Township, was arrested in August after allegedly confessing to a confidential informant that he shot and killed his neighbor, Patrick Arnold, in 2008.

Friday was Stevens’ second competency hearing. Presiding Judge Julie Selmon, of Monroe County Common Pleas Court, first signed off on the testing in August. Selmon was appointed to Stevens’ case in lieu of then-Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Susan Boyer, who had stated a conflict of interest in the case.

“The court did receive both the competency and the insanity evaluations from the Forensic Diagnostic Center of District 9,” said Selmon Friday.

Those evaluations were performed by Dr. Denise Kohler, a psychologist for FDC District 9, which oversees Washington County as well as most of southeastern Ohio. The findings, which declared Stevens competent and sane, were presented Sept. 24.

At that time, Stevens’ defense counsel requested more time to obtain its own experts to evaluate Stevens.

“But before any findings were presented, it is my understanding that counsel withdrew that request,” said Selmon.

Defense attorney Shawna Landaker, who was filling in for Stevens’ attorney, Ray Smith, confirmed that the defense had rescinded the request for subsequent testing.

“The court is prepared to accept these two findings that it has received,” said Selmon, referring to the evaluations presented in September.

Neither Smith nor the case’s prosecuting attorney was present in court Friday. Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Rings stood in for Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider, who is handling the case.

Selmon said she would telephone Smith and Schneider to inform them of Friday’s proceedings before scheduling a trial date.

Though the path is now clear for Stevens’ case to go to trial, there are still several who believe in his innocence, including relatives of the victim.

Three of Arnold’s cousins sat in on Friday’s proceedings.

“Patrick is our cousin, and we loved him, but we’re here for Mark,” said Rose Grahame before the proceedings. Grahame, as well as Arnold’s cousins Patty Carpenter and Jonie Haught, all believe that Stevens did not kill Arnold, they said.

“We want justice for Patrick. We just don’t want (Stevens) to go to jail for something he didn’t do,” said Haught.

Both Arnold’s sister and Stevens’ sister were also in attendance for the hearing, but declined to comment.

Stevens’ case will be set for trial after Selmon speaks with Smith and Schneider. Smith has previously indicated that Stevens will plead not guilty.