A schizophrenic accused in the 1998 stabbing death of a 12-year-old girl is mentally competent to stand trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Superior Court Judge Frederic Link made his ruling after hearing testimony from one psychologist and two psychiatrists who examined Richard Tuite to determine his current mental state.
Link said Tuite, 34, is able to understand the circumstances he is in and can assist his attorneys in preparation for his trial, currently set for Feb. 2.
The judge said he didn't want a jury working on the case over the holidays, nor did he want proceedings to start until after the anniversary of Stephanie Crowe's death.
The body of the girl -- who had been stabbed nine times -- was discovered by family members in their rural Escondido home the morning of Jan. 21, 1998.
Deputy Attorney General Gary Schons told reporters he was satisfied that the court heard the evidence and was pleased that Tuite was found competent.
"We will now be able to take him to trial," the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney Brad Patton declined comment after the two-day hearing.
Dr. Clark Smith, a psychiatrist hired by Tuite's lawyers, testified that he thought the defendant was incompetent to stand trial because of his mental illness, which dates back 14 years to when he was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.
Smith said Tuite looked frightened during two interviews at the San Diego County Jail and was mostly "uncommunicative."
"He complained that people were listening to his thoughts all the time," Smith testified.
Tuite stared straight ahead for most of the competency hearing, but fixed his eyes on Special Assistant Attorney General David Druliner when the prosecutor asked the psychiatrist about the defendant's history of violent acts.
Druliner said Tuite attacked someone from behind with a knife and also tried to steal marijuana from a grove, during which a cohort was shot and killed.
"Indeed there was a violent history," the psychiatrist said.
Dr. Ansar Haroun, a court-appointed county psychiatrist, testified that Tuite suffers from a severe mental illness, but was competent to stand trial.
Haroun said Tuite didn't know what he was charged with, but denied carrying a gun or knife.
The psychiatrist said he suspected that Tuite had the motivation to appear to be more ill than he actually was.
Dr. Paul Mattiuzzi, hired by prosecutors from the Attorney General's Office, testified Wednesday that Tuite hallucinates and hears voices but is mentally competent to stand trial.
The psychologist said Tuite was cooperative during the three-hour interview on Sept. 18 but didn't say much.
"I would say that he was withholding," Mattiuzzi testified. "It almost seemed like a deliberate and purposeful effort to cooperate while not giving information."
Witnesses testified at a preliminary hearing that they saw Tuite in the area of the Crowe residence the night before the girl's murder, knocking on doors and asking for an old friend named Tracy.
Michael Crowe, the victim's 14-year-old brother, and two friends were originally charged with her killing. But charges were dropped in 1999, when a DNA test revealed the victim's blood on a red shirt that Tuite wore the night of the murder.
At the preliminary hearing, Tuite's lawyers presented evidence that they claimed pointed to Michael Crowe, Joshua Treadway and Aaron Houser as the real killers.
In his ruling, Link said Tuite from time to time had denied the charges against him and made statements that he'd rather go to a mental hospital than prison for life.
Link said the defendant is not divorced from reality; he's just not comfortable with it.
If convicted, Tuite could face up to life in prison. He will not face the death penalty.