A San Mateo County judge ruled today that a man accused of fatally shooting East Palo Alto community activist David Lewis outside the Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo in 2010 has been restored to competency.
Judge Lisa Novak this morning reinstated murder charges against Gregory Leon Elarms, 60, after a hearing to certify doctors' reports from Atascadero State Hospital. The doctors declared Elarms to be mentally fit to aid in his own criminal defense.
Elarms sat silently through the hearing, wearing handcuffs and red jail clothes.
Defense Attorney Jonathan McDougall argued that Elarms' competency had not been restored, saying that the defendant continued to "go off on tangential thinking" when it comes to the facts surrounding his defense.
McDougall submitted four letters that Elarms had recently written to him that he said show the defendant's "fixed delusional beliefs" and sense of paranoia regarding attorneys and court proceedings.
Deputy District Attorney Al Giannini submitted reports from a forensic psychologist and staff psychiatrist at Atascadero, who concluded that -- with the aid of psychotropic medication -- Elarms' mental condition has continued to improve since he was committed to the hospital in July 2011.
In her ruling today, Novak said that the defense had not presented enough evidence for the court to conclude that Elarms was still incompetent, and said that the letters he wrote to McDougall displayed more of a distrust of the justice system than a true diagnostic finding of paranoia.
Novak noted the improvement in Elarms' mental condition and said that he now "certainly understands the nature of the charges against him."
Elarms is scheduled to be back in court on Sept. 7 to enter a plea to the murder charge.
Elarms is suspected of following Lewis -- whom he knew from growing up in East Palo Alto -- from the San Mateo Medical Center to the nearby Hillsdale Mall on the evening of June 9, 2010, and then shooting him once in his stomach with a .44-caliber handgun.
The shooter fled the scene, but when responding police officers asked a dying Lewis who shot him, he managed to mutter "Greg" before losing consciousness, according to prosecutors.
Police were unable to make any arrests until December 2010, when a man in Pittsburg contacted investigators with information about the unsolved case. The man -- who turned out to be Gregory Elarms -- said he needed police protection because David Lewis' killers were threatening to kill him.
Elarms was brought into custody, where under questioning he confessed to shooting Lewis because he believed Lewis had opposed him in a residential dispute, police said.
He also said that at times he had to sleep in the trunk of his car because he believed members of the street gang Nuestra Familia were going to kill him, according to prosecutors.
Criminal proceedings were suspended in July 2011 after Elarms' mental state was brought into question and he was found incompetent to stand trial.
Elarms, who is being held without bail, has been charged with murder, discharging a gun in the course of murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm and the special circumstance of lying in wait.
He faces life in prison if convicted.
--Bay City News