More than two years after he was charged with killing an 85-year-old Fort Wayne man, Joseph A. Kast was found competent to stand trial.
In June 2010, Allen County prosecutors charged Kast, now 35, with killing Claude Berkshire on June 24, 2002, inside the man’s garage at his Juliet Avenue home. Kast is already serving a 55-year sentence for the July 3, 2002, murder of Huntington County building inspector Earl Bowman.
But since the beginning of the case, Kast’s competency has been an issue. Immediately after his arrest on the Allen County charges, Kast asked to serve as co-counsel to his court-appointed attorney, William Lebrato.
Lebrato asked for Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck to appoint experts to evaluate Kast, who pleaded guilty but mentally ill in the Huntington County murder case. In May 2011, Surbeck heard from three experts who were split in their assessment of Kast, with two finding him unable to assist in his own defense and understand the proceedings, while one disagreed.
Surbeck found him incompetent and ordered him sent to a state mental hospital. But the state hospital would not take him until he served his murder sentence, so he was sent back to the Department of Correction.
In October, Surbeck ordered the Department of Correction to provide services to Kast to make him better able to assist in his defense. According to testimony at a pair of hearings this week, no treatment or medical intervention was provided.
At the hearings this week, Surbeck again heard mixed evaluations of Kast’s mental status, though this time, four out of five mental health experts – including two from the state mental hospital in Logansport – found Kast able to assist in his case, even though all agreed he suffered from paranoid and delusional thinking.
Kast’s delusions, psychologist Kevin Wieland said, are primarily religious in nature, something Kast calls “power and control.”
However, Kast’s understanding of the crimes was not delusional, Wieland said.
After hearing from the final experts Friday afternoon, Lebrato pleaded with the court to find his client incompetent.
“In my heart, I know he cannot assist in his defense,” Lebrato said, adding he had spent more time with Kast than anyone else in recent years.
Kast does not appreciate that his case does not qualify for the death penalty, for which he himself has asked, nor is he capable of disclosing relevant and necessary information to his attorneys, Lebrato said.
“He cannot assist in his legal defense,” he said. “It is unfair to everyone.”
Surbeck acknowledged the difficulties in the case for all involved, and said in October, he assumed he, even as the layperson, was correct in his assessment of Kast’s mental status. And while it is clear Kast operates out of a belief system that is different from societal norms, that is not necessarily a mental defect, Surbeck said.
There are clear mental health concerns about Kast, but he has a sufficient IQ and, with the exception of his “power and control” belief, is mainstream enough to understand the process and everyone’s role in it, Surbeck said.
The trial is set for September.