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Unprecedented legal issues prolong Butts' trial

Hospital, judge disagree over accused murderer Daniel Butts' mental condition


Photo Credit: FILE - Daniel A. Butts spent most of the three-day mental competency hearing in February 2013 with his fingers in his ears. Columbia Circuit Judge Ted Grove has determined Butts is not capable of aiding and assisting in his trail, though physicians have determined Butts is not mentally ill.Accused killer Daniel A. Butts waits in a Multnomah County Jail cell for the next stage of his prosecution. But exactly what comes next is hard to tell for the 24-year-old suspect.

Butts has been in custody since Jan. 5, 2011, the day he allegedly wrested Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter’s service weapon away from him and shot the chief in the head with it.

After being in custody for more than three years, Butts still has no trial date in sight.

By all accounts, Butts is a psychiatric and legal anomaly. Those involved with the case must determine whether he is able to aid and assist in his trial. Though physicians have determined Butts is not mentally ill, Columbia Circuit Judge Ted Grove has said he is not capable of aiding and assisting in a criminal trial, according to Columbia County District Attorney Steve Atchison.

As a result, the case is at a standstill.

Atchison said Butts could not legally be medicated for psychological issues unless he has an established condition. Without a diagnosis that supports the use of medication, Butts’ condition remains unaltered, as does his status with the judge.

“It’s very unique,” Atchison said. “I’ve never run into this before ... Right now, he has not been treated, so we don’t know if he’ll be able to aid and assist eventually.”

Atchison said he has consulted with other district attorneys in Oregon, as well as state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, for input on the case.

In nearby Washington County, Deputy District Attorney Chris Quinn said he has seen a number of cases where a defendant’s ability to aid and assist is contested, though usually both the defense and prosecution side with the hospital’s determination. In Butts’ case, however, Grove determined he was unfit to proceed, Atchison said.

“Theoretically, a judge on his own could say a person is not able to aid and assist even if both sides say that he is,” Quinn said.

Atchison said he is working to get the case moving, but it remains unclear when Butts will again face a judge.

To date, Butts has undergone two separate stints in the Oregon State Hospital for mental evaluation. Atchison said he has been uncooperative with authorities, and several media reports indicate Butts initially cooperated with his defense attorneys and appeared competent, but later stopped communicating with legal counsel and doctors.

Painter was responding to a report of suspicious activity outside a car audio store in Rainier when he confronted Butts. Butts is believed to have wrested Painter’s gun from him, using it to fatally injure the chief before exchanging gunfire with other officers. Butts is also charged with stealing a 1967 Chevrolet Chevelle during the incident.

Butts faces 24 criminal charges for aggravated murder, attempted murder, burglary, robbery, reckless endangerment, unauthorized use of a vehicle, attempted unauthorized use of a vehicle and theft, according to an indictment filed by the Columbia County District Attorney’s office. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Butts’ attorney, Dianna Gentry, declined to comment on the case.