WHEATLAND (AP) — A Wyoming father charged with killing his three sons and brother in 2011 has been undergoing extensive mental health evaluations as authorities try to determine if he can be ruled competent to stand trial.
Everett Conant III, 37, is charged with killing sons Joseph, 11, Charles, 13, and Everett, 18, at their home in Wheatland in July 2011.
Conant also is charged with killing his brother, Nacuma Roland Conant, 33, and wounding his wife.
Conant entered pleas of not guilty and “not guilty by reason of mental illness” in February 2012. If he goes to trial and is convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Conant apparently has been sent to the state mental hospital repeatedly since his arrest.
Court documents show that officials were forced in the months after the shooting to feed Conant intravenously to stop him from starving himself.
In November 2011, Special Agent Len Propps of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation testified that Conant’s then-wife told him that her husband opened fire on his family with two semi-automatic pistols following an argument.
Suzette Conant, who was wounded in the attack, told Propps her husband was upset because he wanted the curtains in the family’s modest trailer home kept drawn. She said her husband believed people were spying on him and that she believed he was paranoid.
The killings shocked the agricultural community of Wheatland, a town of 3,600 people some 70 miles north of Cheyenne.
“It’s like, ‘How can it happen?'” Wheatland Mayor Jean Dixon said soon after the shooting. “This is a small community. We all know each other.”
Conant first went to the state hospital weeks after the killings. Hospital psychologist Ronna Dillinger told the court in August 2011 that Conant had been locked in seclusion and kept on suicide watch.
Conant’s legal team told Circuit Judge Randal Arp in November 2011 that they did not contest that he was competent to stand trial. However, the next month one of his public defenders, Rob Oldham, filed a request with Judge John Brooks to prohibit the state from keeping Conant alive through intravenous feedings.
Oldham stated that Conant had “turned his life over to Jesus” and had decided to stop eating and drinking because of words from the Book of John: “he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”
Oldham argued that Conant had a religious right to stop eating and die. But Brooks ruled the state had an overriding interest in keeping him alive and bringing him to trial.
Last September, Brooks sealed court filings regarding Conant’s mental health. As a result, the court file has numerous pages that indicate only that filings were made on certain dates, while the filings themselves are sealed.
Brooks had scheduled Conant to stand trial Feb. 4 this year. But that date came and went with no public notice on why a trial wasn’t held. On Wednesday, Brooks granted a request from the state hospital in Evanston for an additional 90 days to evaluate Conant.
Platte County District Court clerk Susan Artery said Wednesday that the judge conferred with lawyers in the case after The Associated Press requested to review the court file.
Artery said the judge agreed to make some previously sealed court filings public, including his order Wednesday. No new trial date has been set.
The defense team has asked Brooks to suppress a statement Conant gave to police shortly after he was arrested.
According to the motion, Conant told police that “I need a lawyer and a psychiatrist.” Oldham said police questioned Conant without a lawyer and didn’t advise him of his Miranda rights for more than 50 minutes.
The sketchy nature of the public court record makes it difficult to track Conant’s progress through the legal system.
The court file includes several filings from public defenders apparently responding to prosecutors’ statement that they intend to seek the death penalty.
The defense attacked prosecutors’ claim, for example, that the murders “were especially atrocious or cruel.”
There’s no written statement from prosecutors in the file stating the grounds for seeking the death penalty.