Attorney: Arapahoe County man accused of killing, dismembering mom is competent to stand trial

Judge to decide on competency evaluation

CENTENNIAL, Colo. - An attorney defending Ari Liggett, who is accused of killing and dismembering his mother, says the Arapahoe County man is competent to stand trial.

But the judge said questions have been raised about Liggett’s competence and he must decide whether to order an evaluation.

“He clearly does have a mental disability,” the deputy public defender said. “But not everyone who has a mental disability is incompetent.”

The public defender didn’t go into detail about her client’s disability.

“He had the presence of mind to ask for a public defender,” she said. “He is presently taking his medication. I understand the concern based on a lengthy mental health history. But he’s been able to assist us by articulating his views.”

Liggett was arrested Oct. 17 after authorities found his mother’s dismembered body in the back of an SUV that he crashed following a police pursuit. Investigators later found deadly potassium cyanide in Liggett’s house.

According to police dispatch radio, Liggett called authorities and said he was driving with his mother’s dead body.

It’s not the first time he's been arrested.

In March 2010, Liggett was taken into custody in Boulder following a hazardous materials incident at a homeless shelter. The shelter was evacuated after Liggett told police he was storing hazardous chemicals in a suitcase there. Investigators found granular material inside a mason jar packed in his suitcase. The shelter was shut down for several hours during the investigation.

Tests on the chemical were inconclusive.

According to court documents obtained by 7NEWS, Liggett’s mom had previously told authorities that her son had commented in the past that he would “get rid of the family,” referring to his mother and sister.

The 2010 arrest affidavit states that Liggett’s mom said Ari is Jewish but “he is against Jewish people and appears to be full of hatred for her and her family.”  

The mother said she also found that Ari had searched the Internet for ways to make chemicals like potassium cyanide and dangerous acids. The FBI got involved in the investigation after Liggett ordered chemicals from a company in Connecticut and he asked that they be mailed to a post office box.

Documents in the homicide case have been sealed.

Liggett’s attorney wants to limit information from the 2010 case that can be used in the murder case.

The public defender is also concerned about the impact of a possible court order requiring Liggett to undergo a mental competency evaluation.

“This has substantial impact on our client,” the attorney said, “things that can damage our client going forward.”

Prosecutors told Judge John Wheeler, “We have an interest to ensure that we’re proceeding and that our case is sound.”

Wheeler said he would issue a written decision before the end of the week.

Because records have been sealed and neither side is talking, 7NEWS asked Criminal Defense Attorney Dan Recht about this case.

He said there is a big difference between competency and insanity.

“Insanity has to do with whether a person was sane at the the time the act was committed,” Recht said. “That’s a defense.  A person can be found not guilty by reason of insanity.”

Recht added, “Competency means you are able to assist in your own defense.”

He said if you can’t take part in your own defense because you’re mentally ill, then you are found by the court to be incompetent. “But the case does not get dismissed,” he said. “It gets suspended until the person is restored to competency.”

When asked why a defense attorney would ask that a client not be evaluated, Recht replied, “They (courts and prosecutors) can’t just ask anyone to be evaluated for competency because it conflicts with people's Fifth Amendment rights not to talk and not to talk to a court appointed expert.”

Recht said the issue of competency can affect the plea bargaining process in some situations, if the prosecutor is concerned that a defendant will be found incompetent and is therefore more willing to work out a plea bargain where the defendant is going to spend a significant amount of time in prison.

Recht said that doesn’t seem to be the case here. He noted that the defense wants to proceed.

“Keep in mind however,” he said, "that it seems perfectly clear to me and anyone observing the case that Mr. Liggett has serious mental health problems and there’s a great likelihood therefore of an insanity plea.”

Liggett is due back in court Jan. 2 for a status hearing on competence.

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