Suspect not competent to stand trial in Cukor murder

KTVU broadcast this image of Daniel Jordan Dewitt

Daniel Jordan DeWitt, who was charged with the Feb. 18 Berkeley hills murder of Peter Cukor, is not mentally competent to stand trial, a judge ruled Thursday.

Two doctors examined DeWitt and both concluded the 23-year old did not understand the charges filed against him nor could he help in his own defense, Assistant Public Defender Brian Bloom told the San Francisco Chronicle.

DeWitt will return to court April 13 when Alameda County Judge Sandra Beam will remand him to a state mental hospital for treatment, according to the Oakland Tribune. The idea is to return him to mental competency so he can stand trial.

DeWitt, who was not at Thursday’s hearing, has a long history of mental illness and has been in and out of mental institutions since he was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 18, according to his parents.


In the last few months, he has been so paranoid that he would not open his apartment door to his parents but would only whisper to them through the door, according to a statement released by his parents Al and Candy DeWitt.

“It was horribly painful to watch, to know and to see what he was going through and not be able to bring him any real help,” said the statement.

Candy DeWitt said Thursday evening that she and her husband were “relieved” by the ruling because their son is “very, very ill.”

They called on Alameda and other counties to adopt “Laura’s Law,” which would allow courts to order mentally ill individuals to take medication as a condition of remaining in the community. Only two counties in California have adopted the law, which is set to expire in December 2012.

Here is the DeWitts’ statement:


“Our hearts go out to the Cukor family. We cannot find words that say how deeply saddened we are. A man’s life has been taken and now there is a family that is left with terrible suffering. We are so very sorry.

We grieve for our son Daniel whose life is forever changed by actions he cannot understand and who is so ill that we have not been able to see him.

If you do not have someone in your life with mental illness, it would be hard for you to imagine what it is like to watch helplessly as your son loses his life to such a devastating disease as paranoid schizophrenia and with  little ability  to make a difference given our current mental health system and  laws.

In the last months, as Daniel became increasingly ill, he could only whisper to us through his apartment door.  He feared people could hear him.   He thought people were following him, watching him, poisoning him.   He could not sleep.    It was horribly painful to watch, to know and to see what he was going through and not be able to bring him any real help.

This is the same boy that loved fishing, played endlessly in the fields as a young boy making forts, catching lizards, riding bikes and later, was an all-league football player, a talented writer and a passionate lover of music.


Daniel has been in and out of the hospital over the last four years, a situation known by everyone in the system as “revolving door” for the chronically ill.   The qualifications for an involuntary hold (an imminent danger to self or others or gravely disabled) did not allow Daniel to receive the involuntary treatment that would have helped him.

And although we met wonderful, dedicated staff and health professional along the way that worked tirelessly to help, their hands were most often tied by the laws and qualifications for an involuntary hold.

Daniel did not understand he was sick.  Doctors call this condition  Anosognosia (lack of insight into one’s illness).    It is not that the person is being difficult or refusing to face the truth, but the person is unable to believe and understand that he has an illness.   Because of this, he does not see reason to take medication.

When a person’s brain isn’t working, they don’t know that.  They do not realize what is happening to them.   Yet our current system allows them to make critical decisions about their treatment which we know are based on flawed thinking and can have devastating consequences.

From the 1st signs of illness, we worked very hard to find treatment for Daniel and joined groups and programs where we could learn more.  However families cannot make a difference alone, we need help.

We were devastated in December when a hearing officer release our son against our stated wishes and against the Doctor’s recommendation for continued treatment.  We’re yet again heartbroken, yet again afraid.

Laura’s Law, also known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment,  allows courts to require some individuals with severe mental illness to stay in treatment as a condition for living in the community.     This law expires on Dec 31, 2012 and is currently adopted only in two counties in CA.  Legislators should pass the extension of Laura’s LawAB1569 and all counties should adopt this law.     We need to look for ways to help people stay in treatment & out of the hospital and jail.

This tragedy did not need to happen.

Al and Candy DeWitt

Related:
Community gathers in wake of murder: quizzes Berkeley police [03.09.12]

Berkeley police: We responded properly to Cukor’s murder [03.02.12]
Councilmember calls public meeting after Berkeley murder [02.29.12]
Murder suspect trial delayed for psychological assessment [02.24.12]
Murder suspect was looking for fictional girlfriend [02.23.12]
Councilmember: unanswered questions over murder [02.23.12]
Alleged killer had been in and out of mental institutions [02.21.12]
Berkeley hills neighbors react with shock to brutal murder [02.20.12]
Intruder assaults, kills homeowner on Grizzly Peak [02.19.12]