A judge today found a man accused of murdering East Palo Alto community activist David Lewis in the parking lot of San Mateo’s Hillsdale Mall last year incompetent to stand trial. San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Mark Forcum made the ruling this afternoon after two of three court-appointed doctors who examined 58-year-old Gregory Elarms concluded that he would not be able to aid in his own defense. Seated in the courtroom in handcuffs and red jail clothes, Elarms yelled incoherently about wanting to question one of the doctors and replace his court-appointed defense attorney. Forcum advised the defendant that it was not in his best interest to yell in the courtroom and Elarms shook his head silently.
Competency proceedings were suspended two weeks ago when defense attorney Jeff Boyarsky requested that the court first hold a preliminary hearing to determine if there was enough evidence for Elarms to be tried on criminal charges. Elarms is suspected of following Lewis from the San Mateo Medical Center to Hillsdale Mall on the evening of June 9, 2010, and shooting him once in the stomach with a .44-caliber handgun outside his car. Before he died later that evening, police asked Lewis who shot him and he said “Greg,” San Mateo police Sgt. Rick Decker testified at the preliminary hearing, which was held this morning. Police were not able to get a last name before Lewis lost consciousness, Decker said. For the next six months after the homicide, investigators compiled a master list of all the “Gregs” in East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and in the state parole system, he said.
They had barely begun to narrow down the list when on Dec. 18, 2010, a man in Pittsburg called police anonymously and told them that David Lewis’ killers were threatening to kill him and that he needed police protection, Decker testified. Police offered to pick the man up from his home and got his address, Decker said. After running an address check, investigators learned the man at the address was Gregory Elarms. Police brought Elarms to San Mateo police headquarters for questioning. After telling investigators that he often hid in his car trunk for hours because members of the street gang Nuestra Familia were conspiring to kill him, Elarms confessed to shooting Lewis because he believed Lewis had opposed him in a residential dispute, Decker said. Elarms described how he shot Lewis once in the stomach, and said Lewis had “a stunned look on his face” and put his hand to his stomach, stumbling, Decker testified. Elarms was arrested on Dec. 19, 2010, after police interviewed Elarms’ son — who said his father told him about the shooting — Elarms’ wife, who said she found .44-caliber ammunition in a sock, and a woman he referred to as his mistress.
Elarms was charged with murder, discharging a gun in the course of murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and the special circumstance of lying in wait, which could make him eligible for the death penalty. Forcum ruled that there was sufficient evidence for Elarms to be tried for murder, before ruling later in the day that is incompetent to aid in his own defense. Elarms will be back in court on July 14, when a decision will be made on whether he can be medicated involuntarily during his incarceration. He will be placed in a state-run mental facility on July 26.
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