Judge to rule on competency of Madera murder suspect

A doctor has questioned the competency of a Madera man accused of killing and sexually assaulting three women and trying to kill a fourth in the 1990s, and now a special hearing will be held to determine whether the man can aid in his own defense.

Jose Guerrero has been on trial in Madera County Superior Court since March 2, but that is now on hold until April 6, Judge John DeGroot ruled Monday. He scheduled a competency hearing for April 1.

Both sides agreed that a jury will not be used in the hearing. DeGroot will issue a ruling after hearing testimony.

One doctor has questioned Guerrero's competency, while two others said he is competent to stand trial. A fourth doctor will examine him this week.

Madera County District Attorney Michael Keitz said Monday that prosecutors will shift gears to deal with the coming competency hearing.

"Trials are dynamic things," he said. "You never know what will come out. You've just got to deal with it."

Two jurors already have indicated that the delay will prevent them from continuing on the panel. They will be replaced by two alternate jurors.

Guerrero is on trial for the November 1998 slaying of 22-year-old Tamara Hernandez, the July 1998 murder of Charlene Fowler, 30, and the April 1995 murder of Julie Woodley, 42. In addition, Guerrero is charged with attempting to murder Evelyn Estrada.

Guerrero has pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorney Eric Green said he is just looking out for his client's best interest in seeking the competency hearing.

"I'm doing what I have to do to protect my client's rights," he said.

One possible outcome is a mistrial, which Green said Monday he does not want because he thinks the current jury is good. He also thinks he has a strong case with regard to special charges that make Guerrero eligible for the death penalty.

These "special circumstances" involve multiple murder and murder committed during a sex crime. Guerrero faces two special charges for each victim.

"I've got a legitimate opportunity to defeat the special circumstances," Green said.

If Guerrero is convicted, the jury will decide whether he deserves the death penalty. It's the first time in a decade that Madera County prosecutors have tried a death penalty case.