Stiltner trial continued foe psychiatric evaluation

By Tom Corrigan

For now anyway, the fate of Portsmouth murder suspect Nathan Stiltner rests not with the Scioto Court of Common Pleas but with a mental health professional in Cincinnati.

Stiltner, 36, is charged in the August slaying of Portsmouth resident Douglas A. Thackston, who police say died from a single gunshot wound to his upper abdomen.

Originally, Stiltner was to go before county Common Pleas Judge Howard Harcha Dec. 17. That trial date was continued after Stiltner’s defense team raised some evidentiary area issues during a pretrial hearing and ultimately made a motion to postpone the trial. Harcha granted that motion. The trial was reset for Monday.

A spokesperson for the common pleas court said Stiltner’s attorneys made a new motion Feb. 13 for a mental health evaluation of their client to determine whether he is mentally fit to stand trial. Harcha granted that motion as well but a new trial date is undetermined.

The court spokesperson said the mental evaluation will take place at a clinic in Cincinnati. She did not know the date of the evaluation, if it has been set, adding those arrangements would be made between the clinic and the Scioto County Jail which would be responsible for transporting Stiltner to and from Cincinnati.

The spokesperson did say it usually takes about 30 days following an evaluation for a determination to reach the court. Ohio law requires a competency hearing to be held within 10 days of the court’s receipt of the initial mental evaluation. According to a Google search, in Ohio, competency means “the mental ability to stand trial. … A person is mentally incompetent to stand trial if he or she is unable to understand the character and consequences of the proceedings against him or her or is unable properly to assist in his or her defense.”

Should Stiltner be found incompetent to stand trial, that does not mean he will never have his day in court.

Ohio law reads that if a defendant is determined by a judge to be incompetent, but there is a probability that he or she could become competent within one year, the court must order that person to undergo treatment. If the court is unable to determine whether the defendant could become competent to stand trial, the court must order continued evaluations not to exceed four months. The law also makes allowances for at least temporary commitment of an incompetent defendant.

Being deemed incompetent to stand trial is not the same as being found not guilty by reason of insanity. That latter finding requires defense attorneys to first formally enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. That has not happened yet in Stiltner’s case.

According to initial reports following the incident last summer, Portsmouth City Police responded to a call at approximately 3 p.m. Aug. 4. The call came from 1923 Thomas Ave., Apt. D (Wayne Hill Apartments) regarding an alleged shooting.

Police said Stiltner fled the scene and officials launched a manhunt for him. At 12:30 p.m. Aug. 5, police issued a release saying Stiltner was in custody.

According to the indictment against Stiltner handed down by a Scioto County Grand Jury on Aug. 23, Stiltner is charged with a total of four counts, most notably aggravated murder, an unclassified felony.

Count one, the aggravated murder charge, claims “on or about Aug. 4 at Scioto County, Ohio, Nathan L. Stiltner, unlawfully, did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the death of Douglas A. Thackston.”

Count two charges Stiltner with murder, again an unclassified felony. The count reads “Stiltner, unlawfully, did cause the death of Douglas A. Thackston, as a proximate result of the offender committing or attempting to commit an offense of violence that is a felony of the first or second degree, to wit: felonious assault.”

Count three against Stiltner is the charge of felonious assault, a felony of the second degree. Count three reads in part “Stiltner, unlawfully, did knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to Douglas A. Thackston by means of a deadly weapon or dangerous ordinance, to wit: a handgun.”

All three counts carry with them one firearm specification, or special circumstance, each. The specifications essentially claim Stiltner used a firearm to facilitate the offense in question.

The fourth count charges Stiltner with having weapons while under disability, a third-degree felony. Ohio law allows for several definitions of “disability,” although in this case the count specifically mentions the suspect “did knowingly acquire, have, carry, or use a firearm or dangerous ordinance and the person is drug dependent, in danger of drug dependence, or a chronic alcoholic.”

Stiltner was denied bail and last week was still sitting in a Scioto County Jail cell

By Tom Corrigan