MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) - After lashing out at a federal prosecutor, a federal judge on Tuesday ruled for a second time that former state Sen. Gene Stipe is mentally incompetent for a probation revocation hearing.
“It would be an understatement to describe this case as unusual,” U.S. District Judge Ronald White said.
White had initially found Stipe mentally incompetent last November after prison neuropsychologist Robert Denney determined that Stipe has severe dementia. While looking at Stipe on Tuesday, White said he agreed to reopen the case because of “the possibility that the sly old fox, no offense, was faking it.”
White opened the hearing by asking U.S. Attorney Sheldon Sperling why he failed to present requested information on exhibits Sperling planned to introduce. Sperling apologized but White said the prosecutor just didn't want to provide the information.
Sperling unsuccessfully tried to enter 246 recorded phone calls that Stipe made while in prison into evidence. Sperling said the calls showed that Stipe is capable of discussing his business, family members and the status of his case.
In a raised voice the judge asked why the hearing should proceed and why Sperling shouldn't be referred to a disciplinary committee.
White also told Sperling to “stop the speeches” and just ask questions while questioning Denney.
Stipe, 82, is on probation for two felony convictions involving illegal campaign contributions in 1998. Prosecutors say he violated probation by associating with another convicted felon and by orchestrating another campaign fraud case in 2004.
A nurse practitioner and a psychologist testified that Stipe was articulate and functional during his stay at a federal medical facility.
White first ordered a mental evaluation of Stipe in August 2007, saying that he acted drugged and seemed to need prompting from attorneys before responding to questions. Denney based his opinion that Stipe has dementia on an 11-day evaluation in September 2007.
at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo.
White ordered Stipe to return to the facility for up to four months in an effort to determine if his mental competency can be regained. He was released this Sept. 23 after a four-month stay.
Since then he has been on house arrest at his McAlester home where he is fitted with an electronic ankle monitor.
In addition, Stipe faces four counts of conspiracy, mail fraud and bribery in connection with an alleged state-funded scheme for a dog food plant in McAlester that he secretly co-owned.