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DA asks: Is Hicks competent for trial?
By Jerry Sena

Prosecutors questioned whether rape and child porn suspect Keith Clint Hicks is mentally competent to stand trial.

Keith Clint Hicks

The answer may hinge on the content of letters Hicks reportedly drafted and distributed to officials from Boone to Raleigh.

Superior Court Judge Zoro J. Guice granted a prosecution request by ordering that Hicks undergo psychiatric evaluation before his trial, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Guice authorized authorities to transport Hicks to Raleigh’s Dorothea Dix Hospital for psychiatric observation on May 27.

Watauga County Assistant D.A. Charles Byrd said Thursday that Hicks will stand trial “provided he’s back from Dix.”

It wasn’t clear whether Hicks had already been transferred, and if so, whether the evaluation would be completed by June 6.

As of Thursday afternoon no documents had been filed confirming the order had been carried out.

When asked, a Watauga County said, “He is here, but I can’t say any more about it.”

The jailer said she could not clarify whether “here” meant physically in the jail or simply that Hicks remained technically under Watauga County law enforcement authority while being evaluated in Raleigh.

Case roundup

Hicks was first arrested by Watauga County sheriff’s deputies March 11, 2004 and charged with 54 criminal counts — almost all felony sex offenses on a minor.

Hicks, a 42-year-old Sugar Grove resident, was being held in the Watauga County Jail pending a $5 million bond. The indictments, handed down by a grand jury last year, allege Hicks sexually exploited a 15-year-old acquaintance by photographing her while forcing her to engage in various sex acts.

He faces 36 counts of statutory rape, eight counts of second degree rape, and four counts each of sexual exploitation of a minor and indecent liberties with a child.

The mother of the alleged victim has been charged separately in the incident (she will not be named in this report because doing so may tend to identify the alleged victim).

She is facing one count of felony child abuse and a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile.

The mother is charged under a section of child-abuse law specifying parents who commit or allow the commission of any sexual act upon a juvenile.

Prosecutors have subpoenaed the mother to testify against Hicks. Her attorney has asked the court to excuse her from the witness stand on grounds she might incriminate herself.

Court documents report that, in March 2004, the 15-year-old and her mother went to the Watauga County Sheriff’s office and told sheriff’s investigators of the alleged offenses.

According to the documents, the mother and daughter reported that the girl had been staying in Hicks’ residence between Dec. 15, 2003 and Feb. 20, 2004.

While there, the girl said, Hicks forced her to have sex.

Compromising letters

In his motion questioning Hicks’ competence for trial, Byrd cites letters allegedly written by Hicks and sent from his Watauga County jail cell.

Byrd said Hicks has compromised his own defense with the letters.

In one letter, dated Jan. 25 of this year, Hicks reportedly wrote, “I love (juvenile’s name omitted) with all my heart and soul and that is why I am here. I will become a martyr for (juvenile’s name omitted) and allow you to destroy me because I love her that much.”

Byrd said Hicks has also repeatedly threatened to fire his attorney, West Jefferson lawyer Garland B. Baker.

“I am ready to fire Mr. Baker as my attorney because it seems he works for you rather than me,” Hicks wrote in the same letter to the D.A.’s office. “I think Mr. Baker is confused as to where his loyalties lie.”

Byrd said “The state is informed and believes and therefore alleges that defendant has sought information with regard to filing a bar complaint against his court appointed counsel (Baker).”

Baker didn’t returned phone calls asking for comment before press time.

Numerous accusations

Since his arrest, Byrd said, Hicks has accused a number of Watauga County agencies of “committing crimes and conspiring against him to incarcerate him for the rest of his life.”

Hicks has apparently alleged his claims in letters to the State Bureau of Investigations, Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, the county Department of Social Services, Watauga County school administrators “and other agencies,” according to the D.A.’s office.

In his motion, Byrd notes an apparent contradiction from a letter dated July 26, 2004, in which Hicks reportedly writes, “Any evidence you have been given to you (sic) by the sheriff’s department was taken from me under distress.”

But later in the same paragraph, Byrd said, Hicks wrote “Every shred of evidence you have, I gave freely trying to save (juvenile’s name omitted) life.”

Byrd also alleges Hicks has refused to take medications prescribed for him, including lithium and Seroquel. Lithium is commonly prescribed for treating mania brought on by bi-polar disorder. Seroquel, or quetiapine, is an antipsychotic medication used to treat the symptoms of psychotic conditions, including hallucinations, delusions, and confusion.

“(The) defendant paces about his cell throughout the day and night and is self-centered, acting as if he is the only inmate at the Watauga County Detention Center,” stated Byrd in his motion.

Hicks Trial Timeline:

  • Dec. 1, 2003 to Feb. 20, 2004: Grand jury indictments are handed down alleging offenses to have occurred during this time, while the victim is alleged to have been staying at Hicks’s home.
  • March 11, 2004: Hicks is arrested following complaints lodged by the 15-year-old girl and her mother.
  • March 12, 2004: Assistant D.A. Charles Byrd tells the court Hicks presents a danger to the community and had threatened his accusers. Byrd claims the victim fears for her safety. District Court Judge Bill Leavell sets bail at $5 million and orders that, in the event Hicks is released, the victim and her family be notified in advance.
  • July 12, 2004: A grand jury indicts Hicks on allegations of first degree sexual exploitation of a minor.
  • July 15, 2004: Hicks sends a letter to the D.A.’s office compelling prosecutors to pursue a criminal case against Sheriff’s Department and Department of Social Services officials.
  • July 26, 2004: Hicks writes another letter to the D.A.’s office accusing them of participating in a cover-up. He also claims investigators coerced him into allowing a search of his home.
  • Sept. 16, 2004: Hicks’s attorney Garland K. Baker files a motion requesting the victim’s mental health records from New River Behavioral HealthCare and additional records from the Watauga County Department of Social Services.
  • Sept. 21, 2004: DSS director Jim Atkinson refuses to turn over the victim’s records without an order from the court.
  • Oct. 19: Boone attorney Bruce L. Kaplan files a counter motion on behalf of New River, claiming the records constitute privileged information according to North Carolina law, and cannot be released without permission of the client or her legal guardian.
  • Jan. 21, 2005: Following a defense request, Superior Court Judge James L. Baker, Jr., orders Watauga County sheriff’s investigators to give the prosecution. “written notes, recordings, or other writings,” collected during early interviews with Hicks and other potential witnesses. The D.A. is ordered to provide the defense with the materials no later than March 23.
  • Jan. 25, 2005: Another letter from Hicks threatens to fire his attorney whom he says “is confused as to where his loyalties lie.” He also writes that he loves the alleged victim “with all my heart and soul.”
  • March 17, 2005: The defense files a motion asking release of the victim’s school records. Hick’s attorney writes, “[B]ased upon information and belief… (the alleged victim) has a history of mental health issues and behavioral problems.” He says the information could be relevant to the defense case.
  • May 23, 2005: Morganton attorney Douglas L. Hall moves to quash a subpoena requiring his client, the victim’s mother to testify in Hicks’s trial. She’s been charged with felony child abuse in the same incident and Hall says his client might incriminate herself if forced to testify.
  • May 24, 2005: Byrd files motion seeking to commit Hicks to Dorothea Dix Hospital for psychiatric evaluation.
  • May 27, 2005: Superior Court judge Zoro J. Guice, Jr., signs the order authorizing Hicks’s commitment to Dorothea Dix Hospital.
  • June 1, 2005: Prosecutors file a “motion in limine,” a motion made at the start of a trial requesting that certain evidence not be introduced in court. The D.A. argues the victim’s past sexual behavior is not relevant and should not be admitted as evidence. If the judge rules that parts of the disputed records are relevant, as the defense claims, the D.A. is asking that the evidence be presented first in camera, or in a closed hearing, before introducing them to the jury.
  • June 6, 2005: The trial is scheduled to begin.
  • Jerry Sena can be contacted at jtsena@wataugademocrat.com