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Becker can stand trial in Thomas death

10/9/2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A judge ruled Monday that the man accused
of gunning down a longtime Iowa high school football coach is
mentally competent to stand trial.

Mark D. Becker, 24, can appreciate the first-degree murder
charges against him, understand the proceedings and assist with his
defense, according to an order filed by Butler County District
Judge Stephen Carroll.

Becker had been scheduled to stand trial last month in the June
shooting death of Aplington-Parkersburg High coach Ed Thomas, who
led the northeast Iowa team for 34 seasons and was named the NFL's
High School Coach of the Year in 2005.

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.

Carroll's Monday ruling ordered a new trial date set. Becker
remains jailed and his public defender, Susan Flander, did not
immediately return a telephone message left at her office.

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.

"Becker was able to recall and relate those events in a
'precise, chronologic, detailed, coherent manner,'" the judge
wrote.

Carroll also agreed with the prosecution psychiatrist's finding
that Becker suffers from auditory hallucinations. The judge said
that because the hallucinations do not involve the legal system,
and because Becker didn't experience hallucinations during the
psychiatrist's interview, they likely won't interfere with his
ability to assist with his own defense.

Becker had been released from Covenant Medical Center in
Waterloo a day before Thomas' shooting after being evaluated for
three days following his arrest for leading sheriff's deputies on a
car chase. Before the chase, Becker allegedly threatened a Cedar
Falls man and damaged his garage.

Thomas' slaying garnered nationwide sympathy for his small town.
Four players he coached are on NFL teams, and he is widely credited
with helping Parkersburg recover from a deadly tornado in May 2008
that destroyed the southern third of the town.

Aaron Thomas, one of Ed Thomas' sons, declined to comment on
Monday's ruling.