Experts disagree on Stanford's trial competency

AP News
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Posted: Dec 20, 2011 7:10 PM
Experts disagree on Stanford's trial competency

Medical experts disagreed Tuesday over whether jailed Texas financier R. Allen Stanford is competent to be tried next month on charges he bilked investors out of $7 billion in a massive Ponzi scheme.

A forensic psychologist testifying on behalf of prosecutors at a federal court hearing supported their contention the financier's Jan. 23 trial should proceed, saying Stanford is mentally stable and able to assist his attorneys in preparing his defense.

But a neuropsychologist testifying for Stanford said the financier suffers from several medical conditions, including an inability to focus because of a brain injury he suffered during a September 2009 jail fight.

Stanford had been declared incompetent in January due to an addiction to an anti-anxiety drug he developed while jailed in Houston. He spent more than eight months being treated at a federal prison hospital in Butner, N.C., for his drug addiction and to determine if he had any long-term effects from being injured in the jail fight.

At the hearing, Stanford, who was handcuffed and wore a green prison uniform, sat at a table with his attorneys. Before the hearing began, he waved to family members and friends in the courtroom. The competency hearing could last up to three days.

Robert Cochrane, who helped treat Stanford at the hospital, testified the financier is off the drug that was affecting his mental state and can now think clearly.

Cochrane told U.S. District Judge David Hittner that while Stanford was being treated at the hospital, the financier reported "feeling great, was very energetic ... was laughing a lot. He said, `I'm thinking great. I'm sharp, clearheaded.' He looked quite well."

But Richard Pollock, testifying on behalf of Stanford, said his examination earlier this month of the financier showed that he is suffering from a brain impairment due to injuries from his jail fight that make it difficult for him to focus or concentrate. Pollock also diagnosed Stanford with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the jail fight and with a major depressive disorder.

"I don't think he could competently help you to prepare ... for trial as he can't focus or do analytical thinking," Pollock told Ali Fazel, one of Stanford's attorneys. Three other experts are expected to testify for Stanford at the hearing, which will resume Wednesday.

Stanford is also claiming head injuries he suffered in the jail fight gave him retrograde amnesia, leaving him with complete memory loss of all events in his life prior to that assault, including details about his business operations.

Cochrane, the prosecutors' only witness, testified neurological testing done on the financier shows he is "malingering" or faking symptoms of his amnesia.

"According to our neurologist, there was no impairment in any of the memory centers in the brain" due to the jail fight, he said.

Cochrane said Stanford did not say he had retrograde amnesia until June or July 2011, nearly two years after he was injured in the jail fight. Cochrane said it's "statistically improbable" to develop retrograde amnesia so long after an injury. He said that delay, along with Stanford scoring lower on neurological testing than someone with dementia or who is mentally retarded, led him to conclude Stanford's claim is "not legitimate."

Cochrane said Stanford does have other medical problems, including fatigue, insomnia and hepatitis B with cirrhosis of the liver, but that they do not prevent him from being tried.

Pollock said he doesn't believe Stanford is faking his amnesia and the neurological testing he conducted on him earlier this month showed he genuinely had difficulty expressing his thoughts and prior knowledge effectively.

Pollock also testified that neurological testing done at the North Carolina prison hospital to determine if Stanford was faking his amnesia could have been affected by Stanford's depressed mood after the news of his liver disease, which the financier was told about a month before the testing was done.

Stanford and three former executives of his now-defunct Stanford Financial Group are accused of orchestrating a colossal pyramid scheme that advised clients from 113 countries to invest more than $7 billion in certificates of deposit, or CDs, at the Stanford International Bank on the Caribbean island of Antigua, promising huge returns.

Authorities say Stanford and the executives fabricated the bank's records, bribed Antiguan regulators with investors' money from a secret Swiss bank account and misused funds to pay for Stanford's lavish lifestyle.

Stanford became a billionaire whose financial empire stretched across the U.S., the Caribbean and Latin America. His attorneys say he ran a legitimate business.

Stanford has been jailed since he was indicted in June 2009 by a federal grand jury in Houston, where his companies were headquartered.

After a superseding indictment in May, Stanford is facing 14 counts, including wire and mail fraud. He originally faced 21 counts.