REDWOOD CITY -- A Pittsburg man is mentally well enough to stand trial for the murder of his childhood friend, East Palo Alto community activist David Lewis, a judge ruled Wednesday.
During an approximately one-hour hearing,San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Lisa Novak reviewed a sheaf of mental health reports and then reinstated the case against Gregory Elarms, but he didn't enter a plea and no trial date was set.
Elarms, clad in jail clothes and shackles, didn't speak during the hearing and didn't react to the judge's decision.
Prosecutors say Elarms, 60, followed Lewis, 54, to Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo and fatally shot him in the stomach as he got out of his Honda in June 2010. The case went unsolved for months until Elarms called police and gave them a statement that led to his arrest.
As Lewis lay dying in the mall parking lot, a police officer filmed him saying "Greg." Police compiled a list of Lewis acquaintances with that name, but weren't close to making an arrest before Elarms called. The men had grown up together in East Palo Alto, but no clear motive for the killing has emerged.
The hearing Wednesday was called by defense attorney Jonathan McDougall, who contested a state psychiatrist's April findings that after a stay at Atascadero State Hospital, Elarms is now competent. Instead of a full hearing, which would have included testimony from state psychiatrists and even Elarms' former attorney Jeff Boyarsky, McDougall and Deputy District Attorney Al Giannini simply submitted mental health reports to Novak.
McDougall also turned over letters to the judge in which Elarms urged his attorney to drop plans for an insanity defense and instead argue the killing amounted to manslaughter, which carries a lighter penalty than murder. Giannini said the letters showed Elarms was in good enough shape to plot his own defense.
McDougall disagreed, saying from the start of Elarms' stay at Atascadero State Hospital in September 2011 until April 2012, when doctors deemed him competent, his client had paranoid and "disorganized" thoughts. But McDougall's only expert, who opined that Elarms is still incompetent, had never actually interviewed the defendant.
Lewis rose to prominence in the 1990s, when East Palo Alto won the dubious title of per capita murder capital of the United States. Into the drug-fueled violence stepped Lewis, an ex-stick up man and junkie, who began pulling drug addicts into treatment.
He went on to co-found the drug treatment center Free at Last. The center's model of treating drug addicts where they lived has since been duplicated around the country and world.
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.