- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

WILLIAMSBURG (AP) — A court hearing is scheduled to determine whether a deaf, mute and illiterate man is competent to stand trial on a capital murder charge in the slaying of a teenage girl.

Oswaldo Martinez, an illegal alien from El Salvador, was indicted in May on charges of raping and killing Brittany Binger, who was 16.

In February, police arrested Mr. Martinez, 34, after they learned that DNA from the semen on Brittany’s body matched DNA swabbed from Mr. Martinez’s cheek. Authorities think the attack occurred one day after New Year’s Day.

Mr. Martinez’s DNA was found under the teenager’s fingernails, apparently from fending off an attack, police have said.

James City Police Maj. Stan Stout said evidence shows that Mr. Martinez grabbed Brittany from behind, covering her mouth with one hand while cutting off her air supply with the other.

Then he sexually assaulted her, left her for dead and walked off with some of her valuables, Maj. Stout said.

Beau Webb, one of Mr. Martinez’s attorneys, said he thinks a trial is out of the question for at least a few years because of his client’s inability to communicate and assist in his defense, as required by law.

“We’re dealing with a guy who doesn’t have any base of linguistics. He doesn’t have a grammar system — it’s like teaching a baby,” Mr. Webb told the Daily Press of Newport News.

Anne Coughlin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, said a judge presiding over a capital murder trial for Mr. Martinez would have difficulty balancing the community’s right to have justice served with Mr. Martinez’s right to due process.

“We lock people up, but we tell them why,” Miss Coughlin said. “He doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him or when.”

Mr. Martinez’s right to a fair trial requires communication ability beyond his being able to say when or where something happened, Miss Coughlin said. He must be capable of understanding the advantages and disadvantages of entering a guilty plea, for example.

Mr. Martinez, who lacks formal sign language skills, is being held at Central State Hospital.

Mr. Webb said he hopes Mr. Martinez will be sent to Western State Hospital, where he can get intensive daily sign language instruction.

Under state law, capital murder defendants who are judged incompetent to stand trial remain institutionalized undergoing treatment for their condition.

If it appears that competency can’t be restored soon, hearings continue every six months to assess the defendant’s competency level and whether the treatment being provided is adequate.

A court hearing on Mr. Martinez’s competency is scheduled Aug. 9 in Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court.

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