A jury trial for 23-year-old Grace McDonald, who is facing a capital murder charge, was rescheduled after attorneys said Thursday her trial was scheduled too closely to her adoptive brother 19-year-old Gabe McDonald’s trial.
The siblings are both charged with capital murder of multiple persons in connection to the shooting death of their parents, Gregg and Jana McDonald, on March 2, 2016, in their Conley Avenue home. Gabe McDonald is accused of pulling the trigger. His sister, who is accused of having sex with him, was also charged with criminal conspiracy and prohibited sexual conduct.
Gabe McDonald’s trial is scheduled for 9 a.m. June 11 in District Judge James Rush’s courtroom. Grace McDonald’s was previously set for June 25, but after concerns expressed by both prosecution and defense attorneys that there would not be adequate time between the two cases, Rush approved the requested September date.
Steven Brand, defense attorney for Grace McDonald, said the court reporter would have to have all of the witness’ testimony and transcripts ready and attorneys for both the state and defense would need time to review those to be fully prepared for the trial.
Previous discussions during a pre-trial hearing for Gabe McDonald on Tuesday between Gabe’s defense attorney Justin Low and Assistant Attorney General Geoff Bar, who is prosecuting both cases, indicated Gabe McDonald’s trial would likely take more than a week, which would leave attorneys less than a week before Grace’s trial was scheduled to begin.
Barr said the state shared the same concerns as the defense. Rush said the rescheduled date is still less than a 90-day timeframe from June 25 and said it was a “reasonable request under the circumstances.”
Barr and Brand also agreed on a motion filed to disclose grand jury testimony of four witnesses, just as Barr and Low did in Gabe McDonald’s pre-trial hearing Tuesday afternoon. Rush said any information that is turned over that originated in the grand jury shall be protected and strictly limited to this litigation.
As far as discovery for the case, Barr and Brand said there haven’t been any issues. Brand said there were several issues raised before Barr took over the case, but they had been fully resolved at that point in time.
Barr took over the case for the state after District Attorney Bobby Bland recused his office from prosecuting both siblings’ cases in December. The recusal came after Brand raised issues about not receiving information about his client’s case in a timely manner, which the state is required to do.
Barr and Brand both agreed they would not need another pre-trial hearing prior to Grace McDonald’s pretrial, unless any issues arise out of Gabe McDonald’s trial in June.
Barr said no plea offers have been made in Grace McDonald’s case, at least not since he took the case over.
Rush also asked Brand if they were sticking to the most recent indictment, to which Brand said they do not anticipate any additional challenges beyond what they’ve already made. Asked after the hearing if any of Grace McDonald’s charges would be dropped or changed, Brand said “everything is just proceeding as is.”
INCOMPETENCY ISSUES RAISED
Court records show a new motion was filed Thursday by Gabe McDonald’s attorney that had not been anticipated as of Tuesday, which was supposed to be his final pre-trial hearing. The document filed was a motion to inquire as to the incompetence of Gabe McDonald to stand trial.
The motion stated, “defendant does not appear to understand what counsel is trying to tell him, does not understand even where he is.”
Low told the court Tuesday his expert witness, a psychologist, initially said Gabe was not competent, but he could become competent.
“According to my doctor, he has become competent enough. In other words, he’s learned the system,” Low said Tuesday, adding that he still had reservations, but he was not an expert on the matter and the state’s expert witness had previously determined him to be competent.
The motion filed Thursday states the psychologist determined him to be incompetent to stand trial, but Low did not receive the notice with the psychologist’s opinion until after his announcement Tuesday that he was ready for trial.
The document also requested a hearing to be set on the competency issue and to appoint an expert to evaluate Gabe McDonald for competency to stand trial.