Courier file photo

OTTUMWA — The order entered in an Ottumwa murder case after the defendant was found incompetent to stand trial illustrates the different standards and requirements involved in such a case.

Myriad portrayals on television and film mean a claim the defendant is incompetent to stand trial is well known to the public. But the details are often not as well understood.

An evaluation of Preston Martin led the court to decide he could not stand trial for murder because of a mental disorder “which may prevent the defendant from appreciating the charge, understanding the proceedings, or assisting effectively in his defense.” Those three points are requirements found in both the Iowa and federal constitutions.

The law allows the state to seek treatment on behalf of the defendant, which is why Judge Greg Milani’s instruction was formally called an “order for restoration to competency.” The goal of such treatment is to restore Martin to competency so he may aid in his defense and understand both the charges and courtroom proceedings.

Milani wrote that the “preponderance of evidence” showed Martin was incompetent to stand trial. That is one of several standards that can apply in court proceedings. It means the evidence presented in favor of one conclusion is more credible and more convincing than evidence for a different conclusion. In other words, the conclusion is more likely than not to be correct.

That’s a different, and lower, standard from the reasonable doubt used in criminal trials.

Milani suspended all proceedings in the case while Martin receives treatment at the state’s Medical and Classification Center’s psychiatric hospital. He set deadlines for regular reports, which are sealed and available only to the court and the attorneys involved in the case.

In other area cases:

• Jett Johnson’s pretrial conference for a felony charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm is scheduled for Feb. 12, 2020. It had been Dec. 18. The delay was sought by the defense due to the need for depositions in a separate case in which Johnson faces 23 counts of possession of a depiction of a minor in a sex act.

• Zachary Barr’s pretrial conference for his trial on charges of sexual exploitation of a minor, sexual exploitation by a counselor or therapist, enticing a minor and dissemination of obscene materials to a minor has been delayed. The conference was rescheduled to Jan. 21, 2020, due to his attorney’s conflicts with other scheduled cases.

• Jacob Heckethorn’s trial on a charge of attempted murder is scheduled for March 3. Heckethorn is also awaiting sentencing in a separate case in which jurors convicted him of second-degree murder.

Matt Milner can be reached at and followed on Twitter @mwmilner


Managing Editor

Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.

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