Accused murderer Daniel Armaugh Butts returned to court on Friday, April 13. Butts allegedly killed Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter in 2011.
Legal arguments regarding evidence resumed Friday morning. The evidence phase of a competency hearing for Butts was concluded in February. He had been in the custody of Oregon State Hospital as his ability to stand trial was evaluated.
Butts was a 21-year-old Washington resident when he allegedly shot Painter in the head with the police chief’s pistol during an attempted arrest in Rainier in 2011. Painter was 55 years old when he died. Butts has been back and forth from jail to the state hospital since his arrest.
On the morning of Jan. 5, 2011, Painter responded to Rainier Sound Authority on Rockcrest Street after an attempted car theft was reported; Butts was allegedly trying to steal a car. In one account of the incident, Painter ordered Butts out of the vehicle and used pepper spray on him. Painter lost a fight that ensued and was knocked down. Butts then allegedly shot Painter.
News reports said Butts held out in the stereo store, engaging police in a brief standoff. Butts surrendered after a gunfight with authorities from three counties who responded to the scene.
In February of 2012, Butts was found competent to stand trial, however, further treatment and evaluation was later deemed necessary. In 2013 he was returned to the state hospital, but sent back to the Columbia County Jail after refusing anti-psychotic medication. He was moved to Portland briefly, housed at the Multnomah jail, before being sent again to Oregon State Hospital, where he was forcibly medicated to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Butts was represented by court-appointed attorneys Dianna Gentry and Patrick Sweeney. Columbia County District Attorney Jeff Auxier spoke for the state. Deputy District Attorney Nick Brajcich accompanied him.
During the February hearing, prosecutors called on a psychiatrist who examined Butts and said that while he suffered from schizophrenia he was fit to stand trial. Dr. James Peykanu described treatments and medications given to Butts to raise his level of awareness. Defense attorneys claimed Butts suffered from untreated mental illness and was delusional when Painter was killed.
Peykanu said Butts heard voices in his head, but said the voices were diminished from recent treatment. He also said Butts had demonstrated improved social characteristics during the course of the past year or so.
In the past, Butts has told mental heath examiners that he believed he was the only human and everybody else was either a projection of God or aliens, and has said Jesus or God and other voices talked to him. Butts said sometimes he felt that the TV talked directly to him, according to defense witness Dr. Richard Adler.
Butts also told examiners that his mental health issues began when he was 17, but were amplified by cocaine use in the time leading up the shooting, and he said he was a daily marijuana user.
At the February hearing, Adler said by this time in a typical treatment plan for schizophrenia, 75-90 percent of patients would be fully restored in terms of mental ability. He said 10-25 percent of those suffering from schizophrenia never recover, despite medication and treatment.
Adler also noted that Butts’ symptoms would be difficult to mimic, and pointed to diagnostic scans that showed what he said were abnormalities in Butts’ brain that would impair his cognitive functions.
Butts’ father, Mikel Butts, was called to the stand during the February hearing to discuss a conversation had between himself and an Oregon State Police detective shortly after Painter was killed. Among his testimony, he said his son defended himself from a person who was not recognized as a police officer when Painter contacted him.
“He did not know he was a cop,” Mikel Butts said.
However, Daniel Butts has told mental health examiners that he both accidentally shot Painter, and also that he shot Painter in self-defense after he was pepper sprayed. In audio tapes that were played for the court, he described in detail how he fought with Painter, knocked him down with punches to the head, and admitted to firing the fatal shot in both his self-defense and accidental shooting explanations.
“I got pepper sprayed,” Butts said on a recording that was played for the court. “That’s what started the whole confrontation.”
Adler, a psychiatrist, was called by Butts’ defense team and told the court that Butts was not competent to stand trial. Adler said Butts could be compliant, but not cooperative, and therefore could not assist in his own defense. He also said Butts did not understand the totality and seriousness of the charges leveled against him or the workings of the legal system.
Butts was initially charged with aggravated murder, aggravated attempted murder, first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary, first-degree theft, reckless endangerment and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. He would face the death penalty, which is under a moratorium in Oregon, if he was sent to trial.
Judge Ted Grove heard the April 13 competency hearing at the Columbia County Courthouse Annex in St. Helens. A future court date would be set if Butts was deemed able to stand trial. Butts could face the death penalty, however, Oregon has placed a moratorium on prisoner executions.
"This case is as important a matter as I have presided over," Grove said.
When the February hearing was concluded the state and the defense were instructed to submit closing arguments in writing. In closing, the defense argued that the state had relied on “facts not in evidence” in its closing submission and requested the state’s argument thrown out.
The defense also asked a contempt of court ruling and a $500 fine against the state for violating a protective order regarding Butts’ court documents and mental health records, but the judge denied that motion.
The judge said he would need more time to evaluate the evidence and did not rule on whether he would accept the state’s closing argument. The hearing was concluded with Butts’ fate undecided, and no timeline was given for the pending outcome. A date was set for Feb. 5, 2019, in the event that Butts’ is found fit to stand trial.