Friday, February 1, 2013
WALLA WALLA — An ex-convict who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the attack of a deliveryman in Touchet in 2010 will have at least another day in court.
Luis A. Ballesteros, 22, entered the insanity plea to three criminal charges about two years ago in Walla Walla County Superior Court. Then, Judge Donald W. Schacht — who now is retired — signed an order committing him to Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake for ongoing treatment until it is safe for him to return to the community.
Based on evaluations by experts at the hospital, Schacht determined that Ballesteros was mentally competent when he entered his plea, but was legally insane when the attack occurred several months earlier.
Ballesteros later appealed to the state Court of Appeals in Spokane, claiming his plea was not made knowingly and voluntarily.
In a written opinion filed Thursday, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals found that the record of the plea-taking procedure “fails to demonstrate that constitutional standards were satisfied.”
Although Schacht made several findings at the plea hearing, including that Ballesteros understood the proceedings, the Court of Appeals identified deficiencies.
It pointed out there was no written motion outlining Ballesteros’ understanding of the consequences of his plea. Also, the court determined that Schacht didn’t question Ballesteros as to whether he understood the elements of the crimes with which he was charged, whether he realized he was waiving his constitutional rights, and didn’t enter written findings that Ballesteros’ plea was made knowingly and voluntarily.
Therefore, the Court of Appeals is sending the case back to Walla Walla for a judge to hold a hearing to determine whether Ballesteros — who remains at Eastern State Hospital — understood the nature and consequences of his insanity plea.
If the judge finds that Ballesteros didn’t understand, the plea will be vacated and his case — involving charges of first-degree burglary, second-degree assault and third-degree attempted theft — goes back to square one.
If convicted, he would go to prison. He wrote to Schacht in October of last year, saying he would prefer prison because he is forced to take anti-psychotic medications at Eastern State Hospital and doesn’t need them.
Officials said Ballesteros had been released from the Washington State Penitentiary early on June 3, 2010, and was headed to the Tri-Cities on a Grape Line bus that stopped at the Touchet Mercantile. He entered the store and walked into a storage room in which a young girl was sleeping.
The deliveryman, Joseph D. Hunt of Kennewick, went into the room about 7 a.m. to drop off products and was confronted inside by Ballesteros, who closed the door and started attacking Hunt, according to a Sheriff’s Office report filed in court.
Hunt overpowered Ballesteros and helped subdue him until law enforcement arrived, officials said. Hunt wasn’t injured, nor was the girl hurt or disturbed.
“Mr. Ballesteros later told an evaluator at Eastern State Hospital that something told him to enter the storage room because someone was in trouble,” according to the Court of Appeals opinion filed Thursday.
“He thought he could save the girl and help catch the kidnappers.”