Sampson Oguntope found competent to stand trial in 2012 capital murder case

·5 min read
The Lubbock County Courthouse.
The Lubbock County Courthouse.

A decades-long capital murder case may finally be going to trial after a judge determined that a 31-year-old man accused of sexually assaulting and killing an elderly woman in 2012 was competent.

District Judge John McClendon in the 137th District Court signed an order Thursday finding Sampson Blake Oguntope competent to stand trial in the Feb. 21, 2012 shooting death of 89-year-old Faye Bowen Gray in her home in Slaton.

The ruling stemmed from an Aug. 3 competency hearing during which a psychologist told the court she evaluated Oguntope and found he met the legal standard for competency to stand trial.

However, his attorneys disagree, saying their client still holds onto delusions and irrational legal strategies that are hampering his ability to work with them.

Oguntope is represented by the Regional Public Defender's Office on Capital Cases. The office provides legal defense for defendants in capital cases in which the death penalty is sought.

He has been in and out of mental health facilities since October 2013 when his attorney at the time filed a motion suggesting he was incompetent to stand trial.

In 2015, McClendon found that Oguntope had a mental illness that [fueled] his incompetency to stand trial and ordered the defendant be committed to a mental health facility for treatment. His commitment was reviewed yearly and extended as court records show alternate findings of competence and incompetence.

Oguntope has been through 12 competency exams, his attorneys told the court.

According to court records, Oguntope was found competent in September and again in May. However, his attorneys objected to the findings, which resulted in the competency hearing.

Dr. Megan Thoene told the court that Oguntope, who is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bi-polar type, understood the charges and facts alleged against him, the key players in the trial, the possible outcomes of his case going to trial and is capable to work with his defense attorneys to form a strategy for his defense.

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Defendants who have mental illnesses can be found competent as long as their illness does not impede their ability to work with their attorneys and understand the legal process.

Thoene said she had in prior competency evaluations found Oguntope incompetent -- and in some cases not restorable in the foreseeable future -- because he fixated on delusions that kept him from working with his attorneys to come up with a defense in his case.

Those delusions include a belief that Lubbock police investigators tampered with the evidence in the case and that there was an unidentified alibi witness who could prove his innocence.

Thoene said Oguntope didn't mention those delusions in his last two competency evaluations.

She said she didn't believe Oguntope was merely reciting definitions of the law he learned at competency restoration classes because her evaluations also included questions that required him to apply those definitions to his situation.

"His ability to stay on topic was significantly improved," she said.

Thoene attributed Oguntope's competency to a change in his medication regimen, which added another anti-psychotic and an anti-anxiety medication, and to individualized education at the Rusk State Hospital where he has been since 2017. Before that he was being treated at the state hospital in Vernon.

Prosecutor Ashley Davis argued to the court that Oguntope's ability to set aside his delusions when speaking with evaluators such as Thoene, showed he wasn't compelled by his mental illness.

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However, Dennis Reeves, the managing attorney for the Regional Public Defender's Office who has been involved in Oguntope's defense since his indictment in 2013, told the court he's been in contact with Oguntope regularly and disagrees with Thoene's findings.

He told the court that his client is determined to be found competent and has studied previous evaluations and police reports -- which he was not allowed to have -- to learn what to say to feign competence.

"He understands what he has to say to satisfy the examiner," he said.

However, he said Oguntope still maintains delusional beliefs that keep him from working with them to develop a legal strategy based on reality.

He said as recently as two days before the hearing, Oguntope, who he referred to by his middle name, still clings to irrational beliefs about the evidence against him and the legal strategies he wishes to employ at a potential trial.

One of the strategies his client proposes is to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, which would result in a judge sending him to a mental health facility from where he will be eventually released.

However, Reeves said not guilty by reason of insanity is not a plea, but an affirmative defense raised at trial, also called an insanity defense. The defense requires an admission of committing the offense under an insane state of mind.

Reeves said he didn't believe Oguntope understands the consequence of waiving his fifth amendment right to testify during a trial.

He said Oguntope could regurgitate what it means to testify at his trial.

"But when it gets down to where should he, that's where he breaks down," he said.

He said Oguntope understands that what he says on the stand if he chose to testify could be used against him but believes that it would not harm his defense.

"Blake does not have any type of true rational understanding of how those facts would come in or even how they would not help," he said.

Before Oguntope's arrest in connection with Gray's death, Slaton police he behaved in an unusual away on the morning of the shooting.

Officers questioned him after receiving several reports he had gone to people's homes, knocked on their doors and asked them when they planned to leave for work, how long they would be gone and when they expected to come back.

He told officers he was looking for a woman named "Nadine" but had the wrong address, according to court records.

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Judge finds man competent to stand trial in 2012 capital murder case