ST. GEORGE – The progression of a 2012 attempted murder case has come to a halt while the suspect involved is committed to a state-run mental health facility under the possibility he may never be restored to the level of competency needed to proceed to trial.
Craig Manwill Bennett, 36, was handed over to state custody Monday following the issuance of an involuntarily commitment court order. He will be sent to the Utah State Hospital in Provo for care with mental health officials set to review his condition in six months.
Bennett was involved in a November 2014 shooting in an RV park in the community of Harrisburg which sits south of Leeds just off Interstate 15. During the incident, Bennett shot and severely injured an RV park resident with a shotgun. After his arrest he would tell police he shot a “bad man” and “a devil” who had threatened to kill his mother.
No stranger to the State Hospital, Bennett has been there at least three times prior to Monday’s ruling. One stay was before the November 2012 shooting, attorney Edward Flint said previously, while the two other stays took place afterward.
In the two prior instances since the shooting, the court declared Bennett incompetent to stand trial and sent him to the facility in an effort to restore him to competence via treatment and medication. In both cases he was restored to competence, only to relapse soon after and stall court proceedings yet again.
Bennett has been kept at Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility since early 2016 and was visited by mental health experts who once again concluded he was competent. The judge and attorneys involved in this case were rather dubious about that conclusion.
“It was obvious that neither the judge nor (Deputy Washington County Attorney Ryan) Shaum for the state or I believed Mr. Bennett was either competent or was going to stay that way long enough to get us through a trial in this case,” Flint said last month.
A more recent mental evaluation was conducted that aligned with their conclusion. The 15-page report described Bennett as having a diagnosed mental illness, being highly delusional and unlikely ever to be restored to mental competence.
5th District Judge Eric Ludlow reviewed the report during a hearing last month and called it “troubling.” He ultimately ruled that the process of committing Bennett to the care of the state get underway. The committal process itself would be handled in a civil court.
As for the criminal case against Bennett, it comes to a standstill.
“For the foreseeable future, there’s nothing going on with the criminal case,” Deputy Washington County Attorney Ryan Shaum said.
Even though the case is stalled, the criminal charges against Bennett will remain on the books, Shaum said.
During a preliminary hearing last year, police officers who responded to the commotion at the RV Park in Harrisburg testified that they found Bennett standing in front of a trailer with a shotgun in hand.
Bennett dropped the gun when ordered to and rambled non-stop, saying the man in the trailer – the shooting victim – was a devil and serial killer that had threatened to go after Bennett’s mother.
Bennett knew the man’s son and had gotten cigarettes from him on occasion. The night of the shooting Bennett went to the trailer looking for the son who wasn’t home.
Bennett returned to the man’s trailer and entered with a shotgun he ended up pointing in the man’s face. The victim sustained significant wounds to the top of his head and hand while making an attempt to shove the shotgun out of his face before Bennett pulled the trigger. He was flown by Intermountain Life Flight to a hospital in Las Vegas in critical condition.
The man lives in Arizona now, Shaum said, yet continues to deal with the aftermath of what he called “life-altering injuries” left from the attack.
“As long as (Bennett) has a mental illness and is a danger to himself and to others, he will stay committed at the (state) hospital,” Shaum said.
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