- Associated Press - Thursday, December 19, 2019

VINITA, Okla. (AP) - A man suspected in the deaths of an Oklahoma couple and the vanishing and presumed deaths of their teenage daughter and her friend two decades ago was found competent to stand trial.

A three-man, three-woman jury deliberated for 45 minutes before returning with that verdict Wednesday in a competency hearing for Ronnie Dean Busick. Busick showed no emotion as the decision was announced, the Tulsa World reported.

Authorities believe Busick was one of three men who shot Danny and Kathy Freeman, set the Craig County couple’s mobile home on fire with them inside, and kidnapped their then-16-year-old daughter, Ashley Freeman, and friend Lauria Bible on Dec. 30, 1999. The other two suspects have since died.

Busick had been living in Kansas when he was arrested in April 2018 and charged with four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and one count of first-degree arson.

The defense has argued that Busick is not competent to stand trial because he suffered a traumatic brain injury in 1978 and has trouble focusing, getting a clear story, and rationalizing the case.

Four witnesses testified during a two-day competency hearing.

Scott Orth, director of forensic psychology at the Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita, told jurors that Busick “was very cooperative and very forthright” when he evaluated him.

Shawn Roberson, a forensic psychologist hired by the state, described Busick as not depressed nor hearing voices. Busick was concerned that the publicity surrounding the case had “tainted the community against him,” he said.

Gilbert Martinez, a Texas-based neuropsychologist who was an expert for the defense, testified about a gunshot wound Busick sustained in 1978 and its impact on his brain’s ability to process information.

“He is not competent to understand all the complexities of trial,” Martinez said.

Gregg Graves, one of Busick’s attorneys, testified that Busick didn’t know Graves’ name.

Busick has has denied any involvement or knowledge of the whereabouts of the teenage girls’ remains, Graves said.

After the hearing, District Attorney Matt Ballard vowed that authorities would find the missing pair.

Lorene Bible, Lauria Bible’s mother, urged someone to come forward with information.

“We are still looking for the girls,” she said. “Somebody out there knows something.”

Busick is slated to come back to court on Feb. 7, when his preliminary hearing date will be set.

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