Attorneys on Tuesday sparred over the release of an assault suspect in Duluth's Lakeside neighborhood as a defense attorney indicated she may request a mental health evaluation that could stall the case.
Warren Holt Jr., 28, appeared in State District Court by telephone for the first time since he posted a $150,000 bond shortly after his arrest for allegedly stabbing, beating and strangling a 78-year-old stranger and stealing his truck June 16.
Public defender Rebecca Shaw said her office was awaiting the release of certain medical records before determining whether to request a competency assessment. If ordered, the case would be placed on hold while a psychologist interviews the defendant and prepares a report with opinions on his ability to understate the proceedings and participate in his own defense.
Judge Sally Tarnowski continued Tuesday's hearing to July 29, while suggesting Holt enter the 6th Judicial District's Rule 20 screening process to hasten a potential evaluation.
The judge also rejected a request from St. Louis County prosecutor Tony Rubin to impose additional conditions on Holt since he has been released on unconditional bond.
Rubin argued that circumstances have changed since the $150,000 figure was set by Judge Leslie Beiers at Holt's arraignment June 18, noting the recent addition of a first-degree assault charge.
PREVIOUSLY: Duluth man charged in 'vicious' assault, robbery
Rubin previously filed a written motion in late June requesting a no-contact order with the victim, his family and his residence. The prosecutor did not specify any other requested conditions.
"The victim's prognosis and recovery still hangs in the balance," Rubin told the judge. "And the fact that the defendant has been released and is currently now living within blocks of the victim has the state needing to express significant concerns for the safety of the victim and the community."
Shaw called the prosecutor's request "wholly inappropriate," noting that, under the Minnesota Constitution, criminal defendants are entitled to the opportunity to be released without conditions — other than promising to appear at future hearings — after posting a monetary bond ordered by the court.
She added that the assault charge does not change the potential penalties for Holt's alleged crimes, as he was already facing aggravated first-degree robbery and two counts of first-degree burglary. If convicted, he would only be sentenced on one count.
"Just because the defendant was able to post that bail doesn't make anything different; that doesn't meant the circumstances change," Shaw said. "The state should have been able to anticipate that that there was a possibility that he was going to bail out. Bail is set not to keep people locked up. … Bail is set to keep the government from overpowering the people. It's supposed to be reasonable."
Rubin, at the time of charging, requested that bail be set "in excess of $150,000" and asked the court not to refer Holt for any form of supervised release. Judges sometimes set two bail figures — a smaller figure with requirements to follow and a higher figure without conditions attached — but Beiers only set the required unconditional bail in Holt's case.
"Mr. Holt took advantage of the unconditional bail, and I agree with Ms. Shaw," Tarnowski said at Tuesday's hearing. "I don't have a basis to change that at this point."
According to court documents, the victim told police that he was in his garage shortly before 2 p.m. when an intruder hit him in the head with a can of varnish and choked him. The suspect then stole his house and car keys and left in his pickup truck.
The 78-year-old stated that the same man had been by his house, on the 6100 block of East Superior Street, less than an hour earlier. The suspect was looking at a Ford truck parked in the driveway before the victim "shooed" him away, according to the complaint.
The charging document alleges that Holt left, only to return to hide in bushes before "emerging to ambush the victim in his own garage." He allegedly struck the victim with a can, wrapped his arm around the victim's neck and dragged him to the rear of the garage, where the 78-year-old was stabbed multiple times with an awl, a woodworking tool similar to an ice pick.
The victim suffered several injuries to the face and head as well as puncture wounds to the chest, including above his heart. He also suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung and injuries to the neck and throat, according to the complaint.
Holt was allegedly found driving the victim's Ford near Scanlon later that day. He allegedly told Carlton County deputies that he was looking to purchase the truck and was test-driving it. Arresting officers noted he had a fresh cut on his wrist and apparent blood on his shoe.
Rubin indicated he would seek aggravated sentences on any counts that result in a conviction, saying the victim "was treated with particular cruelty" and that the crime "was committed in a location in which the victim had an expectation of privacy." All four charges carry a statutory maximum of 20 years in prison.