The case got going full bore yesterday, with the judge ruling Brandon McInerney competent and mature enough to stand trial in adult court. New dates were set in the case and an important discovery motion will be argued on December 29th, with a prelim date set for January 26th of 2009. After court, I had the chance to speak a little with Brandon’s new attorneys, Scott Wippert of the United Defense Group, and Robyn Bramson.
Brandon’s new attorneys, Scott Wippert and Robyn Bramson, wear their game faces to court.
I liked very much what I heard. This was the first time the new lawyers have felt free to speak. Brandon’s former attorney, Ventura County Senior Public Defender William Quest, had expressed major concerns that Wippert and Bramson and the other attorneys that took over the case did so just for the purposes of media exposure. Yet, now that I’ve had the opportunity to speak with the new attorneys at some length, I believe this not to be the case, and, that the change may have been the best thing to happen to Brandon and his defense.
Read the interview below and see if you can read into the defense’s strategy. I have a feeling the December argument re the discovery motion will be critical to Brandon’s defense. What do you think?
Q: Now that the psychological evaluations are complete, where do you go from here?
A: …We looked at their (the doctors’) reports, and at this point, we move on. At this point, he is competent to stand trial based on Dr. Woods’report.
Q: Did Dr. Woods indicate to you at any point that Brandon has some mental issues?
A: Just because someone raises an issue of competency doesn’t always mean it relates to mental deficiencies. What we were most concerned about is his development or maturity. And that is a standard that a lot of people aren’t aware of. But we were concerned, both myself and Ms. Bramson, that he was in fact… We had concerns whether he is competent or not. Obviously, we’re not psychologists. So we wanted to make sure that somebody who knew more than we do evaluated him. Obviously, we looked at his report to make sure that in our mind that he did follow the legal standards and apply his knowledge in those regards as well. And, again, we’re comfortable with the outcome… Ethically, we had to do this. Any time an attorney has doubts as to whether or not his client is competent, whether it be, as was (the doubt) we had for Brandon, or, for, like you said, some could be mental capacities. But, ethically, lawyers, if they have a doubt, have to raise the doubt so that it can be determined whether or not they can receive a fair trial.
Q: To the average layman, this might seem to be an unusual motion to determine whether a defendant is too immature? There have been other cases like that?
A: Yes, exactly. It’s whether or not he is mature enough to understand what exactly is going on. Obviously, when you have a child in a courtroom like this – and the legality of everything – a lot of times children will just do what the grownups tell them to do, for the lack of a better term. And, yes, there are issues. And I think Dr. Woods actually came back, a few months ago, with I think a thirteen year old where he held him developmentally immature. Which meant he wasn’t competent. But it is something that most lawyers maybe are not aware of – or don’t see it as an issue.
Q: Mr. Wippert, is there a question as to whether Brandon can help his attorney in his defense?
A: I think Dr. Woods did evaluate him for that. I think he is a smart kid, and that doesn’t necessarily automatically mean that he’s mature enough to understand what’s going on. But I do believe that he is competent enough to help us in his defense. Now, obviously we are going to take our sweet time. And we’re going to make sure he understands everything. But I do believe that he is at a point where he can help us in his defense. I certainly don’t think he could to it on his own. Where, as some adults – they’re allowed to represent themselves. Certainly, he would never be able to do that at this point.
Q: How many hours did the psychologist and psychiatrist spend with Brandon?
A: At the top of my head I’m not sure. But they both did two separate visits and both of them were pretty thorough. So a couple hours. I know that some tests were conducted. And Ms. Bramson actually sat through both of them just to be a fly on the wall. But Dr. Woods’ evaluation was very thorough and addressed all of our concerns.
Q: Are you satisfied with their conclusions?
A: Yes, I’m satisfied with Dr. Woods’ conclusions, because he did a proper analysis. And he evaluated him properly, according to the standards. And what we pointed out were our concerns. He took notice. And he evaluated him accordingly. So, yeah, I’m very pleased Dr. Woods did that.
Q: Was there something you weren’t satisfied with on the other reports?
A: I would just say that Dr. Thurston’s report wasn’t as thorough as Dr. Woods’.
Q: But they both reached the same conclusion?
A: They both reached the same conclusion. And I won’t get into any detail of those reports, because they are confidential. But, the ultimate issue is whether he is competent or not. And by us submitting on the reports to the court, and, specifically, on Dr. Woods’ report, then the issue is moot at this point.
Q: Can we go back to the relationship you had with Brandon’s previous attorney, the Public Defender’s office. Were you able to resolve everything with that office?
A: There are still some issues. We’re trying to iron out a few things. I don’t want to get into too much detail at this point. But, we’re still trying to comb through all of the discovery and investigation that we have gotten from both the DA and from the Public Defender’s office to make sure we have everything. But, needless to say, the Public Defender’s office wasn’t as forthcoming as we would have liked. But, at this point, we need to make sure that before we make any statements in that regard that we thoroughly examine everything we have to make sure that we do have everything. And, if necessary, we will go back. But I do expect them to fully comply with the law and their ethical obligations and manage to give us every part of the file that they have created for Brandon.
Q: Mr. Quest had expressed concerns previously regarding discovery that there were, amongst other things, reports regarding a Simi Valley Police officer regarding the hate crime allegation. Can you elaborate on that?
A: I’m not sure we will take on that issue at the early stage of prelim. I don’t know that I necessarily have the same opinion in that regard with Mr. Quest. The discovery motion that we filed today specifically requests many internal documents of the District Attorney’s office relating to their direct filing practices. When Prop 21 was passed it stated that they may in fact prosecute some children in adult court. We want to know…what they did to determine whether or not they should file this case in adult court. And what we’re looking for is whatever internal standards and guidelines they have that they used to determine: Is this a kid that I should prosecute as an adult, or leave in the juvenile court system? And we are also seeking any internal memorandum or emails or any summary of statements or conversations that they had specifically about Brandon’s case. And the issue of whether or not they should decide to file it in adult court or in juvenile court, because some of the statements they made to the media have indicated that it was just based on the severity of the crime. Which means, on its face, that there are some questions as to whether or not they really did exercise any discretion at all. As opposed to just saying that there was a child who was shot in the head and it was a very serious crime. And it may be hate related so therefore that’s the only analysis. So I don’t believe that from what information we have that they did in fact exercise any discretion. And, hopefully, they did. But all we’re looking for is the internal information that they have. The guidelines that they used in determining all (juvi) cases that they want to go ahead and file in adult court.