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WARREN MURDER TRIAL Judge Stuard to rule on woman's competency



Published: Fri, September 13, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



All three mental health experts said the defendant is competent to stand trial.

By PEGGY SINKOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Three mental health experts have offered their opinions on whether a 27-year-old Austintown woman is competent to stand trial in the killing of her daughter.

It will be up to Judge John Stuard, however, to make the final decision.

Judge Stuard said during Sherry Delker's competency hearing Thursday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court that he will review reports from the mental health officials. He expects to make a ruling in about a week.

Delker faces a charge of aggravated murder with a specification that the victim was under 13. She has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. Police say Delker ran over her daughter, Samantha Martin, 6, with a car March 29.

Judge Stuard explained that he, the defense and the prosecution each chose a mental health expert to interview Delker. Each one wrote a report to the court giving their opinion on whether Delker was competent to stand trial.

Dr. Steven J. Zuchowski, a psychiatrist at Case Western Reserve University, Dr. Douglas C. Darnall, a psychologist from Liberty, and Dr. Stanley J. Palumbo, a psychologist from Youngstown, all stated in their reports that they found Delker competent to stand trial.

To be competent, the defendant must understand the charges and be able to aid in his or her defense.

Psychiatric reports

"Ms. Delker is currently capable of understanding the nature and objective of the proceedings and of assisting in her defense," Dr. Zuchowski stated.

The experts also all agreed that Delker is suffering from a mental illness.

The reports indicate that Delker has been treated for schizophrenia and has recently been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. Delker also told the experts that she had been hospitalized for mental illness two years ago.

All three experts also noted that Delker denies killing her daughter.

"When I asked Ms. Delker to explain what happened at the time of the offense, she claimed no memory for witnessing or participating in the death of her daughter," Dr. Zuchowski stated. "She claimed to have no memory whatsoever of being anywhere near the place where her daughter was allegedly killed. I specifically asked her if she sensed a gap in her memory around the time of the killing and she said that she did not."

Police said Samantha was killed around 8 a.m. on Prospect Street near state Route 46 in Mineral Ridge, next to St. Mary Church.

Scuff marks that could have been made when a body was dragged by a car were found on Prospect Street, and clothes were embedded in the pavement, says an affidavit prosecutors filed with the court.

Tread marks matched

Crime lab officers with the Ohio State Highway Patrol also found a tire tread on Samantha's shirt that resembled the tread on Delker's car's front tires. Delker's vehicle is a black 1990 two-door Chevrolet Lumina.

Delker told police she went to the church to ask forgiveness after sending her daughter to a "better place," documents state.

The Mahoning County Coroner's Office said an autopsy showed that Samantha, who died of multiple internal injuries, also had been sexually abused. Mahoning County officials are investigating possible sex abuse. No charges have been filed.

Authorities in both counties are investigating because the girl and her mother lived in Austintown in Mahoning County, but the death happened in Trumbull County.

sinkovich@vindy.com




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