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Sun, Aug. 18

Judge rules Zylstra competent for trial to proceed further

PRESCOTT – Although Joseph Lee Zylstra, 47, refused to attend his Rule 11 hearing Thursday, a judge ruled that he is competent to participate in further proceedings.

In addition, Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Ralph Hess denied the defendant's lawyers' motions to withdraw from representing their client in further proceedings.

Yavapai County Jail personnel called the court Thursday morning to inform it that Zylstra refused to be taken to the court to attend his proceeding.

At that point, Hess ordered his attorneys, Kenneth Ray and Thomas Kelly, to go to the jail and to remind the defendant of his rights and perhaps convince him to come to the hearing.

However, Zylstra refused to talk to his attorneys, which has been happening ever since the jury convicted him on Oct. 15 of two counts of sexual assault and three counts of kidnapping. Hess ruled that Zylstra's refusal means that he waived his right to be present.

His attorneys agreed with his decision.

Hess then continued the proceeding, allowing parties to argue the motions to withdraw that the defense filed after the incident on Tuesday when Zylstra used profane language in the courtroom and spat on Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Mark Ainley.

Ray argued that since there is a probability that the state now will pursue additional charges against their client, he and Kelly are potential witnesses, as are Ainley and Hess because they all witnessed the incident.

"It puts us in a very unethical position," he said.

But Ainley argued that additional charges against Zylstra are just a possibility.

Before the hearing began Ainley told the Daily Courier that if the state chooses to press new charges against Zylstra, another agency will have to handle that case because it would be a conflict of interest for his office to prosecute it.

He said they haven't determined what agency that might be, since the police report has not been completed yet.

Hess ruled that he didn't find a conflict of interest to exist for any participating party in this case, including himself, because no one has filed any charges yet.

"I'm not finding the cause to terminate your representation," he said.

Hess said although Kelly doesn't know the entire history of the case, he could still assist Ray during the trial's finding of aggravating factors phase, which is set to start today.

The court appointed Kelly after Zylstra refused to talk to Ray.

During the Rule 11 portion of the hearing, Dr. Jeffrey Penney and Dr. Joseph Stewart testified that they both found Zylstra competent to stand trial and that he has the ability to assist his attorneys if he chooses to.

After the verdict, Dr. Virginia Conner testified that there might be a question whether Zylstra is competent to stand trial. At that time, Hess ordered Zylstra's evaluation under Rule 11 of criminal proceedings.

All three doctors agree that Zylstra is suffering from post traumatic stress (PTS) disorder.

Penney said that his PTS disorder could contribute to his disruptive behavior although it also could be a manifestation of anti-social traits that he has shown.

Stewart said he believes that Zylstra's outbursts are more rooted in his anti-social behavior rather than in PTS.

Attorneys also expressed their concern regarding how to restrain Zylstra in front of the jury if he chooses to participate in his trial. Kelly said handcuffing Zylstra in front of the jury could pre-judice it.

Contact the reporter at mburicadam@prescottaz.com

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