State hospital: Alleged VA shooter competent to stand trial

Judge allows defense to seek second opinion

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

The attorney for a woman accused of shooting her former supervisor at a U.S. Veterans Affairs office in Vancouver is contesting a finding that she is mentally fit to stand trial.

At a hearing Tuesday in Clark County Superior Court, Steven Rucker, court-appointed attorney for Deborah Lennon, 46, said he plans to seek a second opinion.

Rucker said Western State Hospital’s mental health professionals found that she has a “major mental illness,” which he did not disclose. But they also found her legally competent.

Under law, a defendant is competent to stand trial if he or she is able to assist in their own defense. A defendant may have a mental illness and still be found competent.

Rucker on April 2 received permission from the Clark County Indigent Defense Office to hire psychiatrist Dr. Jerry Larsen to evaluate Lennon, according to court records. Larsen is an adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Rucker said.

Judge Barbara Johnson on Tuesday agreed to stay legal proceedings against Lennon until her attorney has obtained Larsen’s opinion. A review hearing on her mental competency is scheduled for May 15.

Lennon remains in the Clark County Jail on $1 million bail.

Until she’s found competent, Lennon may not be arraigned on charges of attempted murder, stalking, cyberstalking and first-degree assault.

“Once competency is determined, then we can enter a plea of not guilty or not guilty by insanity, but the competency has to be established in the eyes of the court to the satisfaction of all parties,” Rucker said.

Lennon is accused of walking into a fourth-floor office of the VA Northwest Health Network and shooting Chief Financial Officer Allen Bricker, 45, twice in the chest about 4 p.m. Feb. 4. His office is in the Center for Community Health building on the Veterans Affairs campus, 1601 E. Fourth Plain Blvd.

The shooting stopped when Veterans Affairs employee and former Marine Neil Burkhardt, 31, of Portland tackled Lennon and wrestled away her handgun, court documents say. He and other Veterans Affairs employees detained her until police arrived.

Lennon had worked in the office as a financial auditor until she quit about two years ago. While she and Bricker were colleagues, she became infatuated with him, according to court records related to a protection order Bricker sought in January 2013.

Bricker, who did not return her affection, alleged that Lennon stalked him, according to court documents.

At Bricker’s request, District Court Commissioner Jeffrey Witteman issued two temporary protection orders. But he denied a request for a permanent protection order two months later, after Lennon had resigned her job and left the state. She said she was leaving because Bricker was married.

Bricker eventually gave up on seeking the protection order because he couldn’t find Lennon’s new address to serve court papers, according to court records.

After living in Arizona for 15 months, Lennon returned.

She moved to her aunt’s home in Portland and purchased a firearm, said Deputy Prosecutor Dan Gasperino. She showed up at Bricker’s office two to three weeks before the shooting and was escorted off the property, court documents say. Afterward, employees said they installed locks on the back door of the office to prevent her from sneaking in.

Lennon wrote to Bricker sometimes several times a day, according to court records. Her emails allegedly professed her love, urged Bricker to leave his wife and included threats to kill him.