Judge: Man Competent For Trial In Killings Of 3 At Meeting

A man charged with opening fire during a municipal meeting in Pennsylvania, killing three people, is competent to stand trial, a judge has ruled.

Defense attorneys argued that Rockne Newell has a long history of mental illness and refuses to discuss what happened at the August 2013 supervisors’ meeting in the Pocono Mountains community of Ross Township, instead rambling about conditions at the jail.

The defense request to find Newell, 60, unfit for trial in Monroe County and send him to a mental health facility for treatment was denied by Judge Joseph Cronin of Delaware County. Cronin ruled that Newell’s refusal to cooperate with his attorneys stems from his choice rather than an inability to do so.

Authorities allege that Newell killed township zoning officer David Fleetwood and residents Gerard Kozic and James LaGuardia and wounded a fourth person because he was upset after losing his property after a lengthy court battle with the township. Officials said they acted on complaints that Newell, a junk dealer, lived in a storage shed, built an illegal culvert and used a bucket outside as a toilet.

Newell, who has lost at least 75 pounds during his incarceration, complained at an earlier hearing that the jail hadn’t been feeding him properly. The judge said a lawsuit Newell filed in December against the prison warden did not demonstrate incompetence but rather “an attempt to control his immediate environment,” WNEP-TV reported.

Prosecutors have vowed to seek the death penalty if Newell is convicted of first-degree murder.

Monroe County President Judge Margherita Patti Worthington recused herself from the trial due to a conflict of interest and asked that a judge from another county be assigned to the case.