For the second time, a judge ruled murder suspect Christopher Sorenson is mentally fit to stand trial.
Sorenson, 30, is accused of killing his mother in December 2011, shortly after two civil trial juries failed to find him suitable for involuntary commitment to a state mental hospital.
Since then, his mental health has been questioned twice.
After his December 2011 arrest on suspicion of fatally beating his mother, 71-year-old Janet "Nene" Sorenson, court proceedings were delayed for months when he was found mentally unfit to stand trial.
He was treated for months at Atascadero State Hospital, found competent and returned to Monterey County Jail. At subsequent court appearances, his neat look and quiet demeanor contrasted sharply with court outbursts early last year, when he was charged with assaulting a deputy in jail.
Last month, Judge Mark Hood again asked for a mental health evaluation after Sorenson apparently tried to commit suicide by leaping head-first from a jail tier in December.
He suffered severe head injuries and was initially placed on a respirator when he was hospitalized.
Prosecutor Steve Somers on Tuesday asked Hood to schedule a trial date, saying it has been "well over" two months since Sorenson's preliminary hearing in October.
In an apparent reference to Sorenson's shaky mental stability, Somers said, "This delay is not good for him.
Hood granted defense attorney Steve Liner's request for more time to work with an expert analyst he is consulting.
Hood asked Sorenson and the attorneys to return to court Feb. 18 for a hearing to set a trial date.
The county tried twice in 2011 to have Sorenson involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, but he was found competent after two jury trials.
Before his mother's slaying, he was hospitalized as he awaited his second trial to determine if he was gravely mentally disabled, court records show. Shortly after that jury found him competent, he was back in court on a drawn-out misdemeanor case and released on his own recognizance on Dec. 2, 2011. Janet Sorenson was last seen alive five days later.
Sorenson was arrested Dec. 16, 2011, after a Monterey police officer recognized his license plate number from a "be on the lookout" alert about his missing mother.
Janet Sorenson's body was discovered Dec. 31, 2011, down a steep embankment off Highway 129 in San Benito County.
Access to records
A ruling from the 6th District Court of Appeal over records from Sorenson's mental health trials is pending.
Last year, Hood granted a request filed by The Herald and The Salinas Californian for access to sealed transcripts from the trials.
Unlike some other California counties, Monterey County routinely seals files of mental health proceedings.
The Herald argued that because courtroom doors were left open and spectators allowed to enter, the trials were public and the transcripts should not be sealed.
Prosecutors filed a similar request for different reasons, presumably seeking evidence of competency to counter a possible insanity defense.
Public defenders appealed Hood's ruling on privacy grounds, and late last year the District Attorney's Office asked the appeals court to quickly issue a decision because Sorenson's trial date was rapidly approaching.
Both sides have asked to present their case in person before the appeals court, which has yet to schedule oral arguments.
In a 48-page brief filed last month with the appeals court, Deputy District Attorney Glenn Pesenhofer wrote that "absent an order sealing the trial record or a statutory limitation to public access, all judicial records are public records open to public inspection."
Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.