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Utah man accused of shooting, killing infant son ruled competent

Published September 9, 2013 10:04 am

Evaluation • Joshua Petersen is "severely depressed" but can understand charges against him.
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Provo • A 21-year-old American Fork man accused of shooting and killing his 5-month-old son in April was ruled competent to stand trial.

Joshua Petersen is charged in 4th District Court with first-degree felony aggravated murder for the April 5 slaying of Ryker Petersen.

On Monday, a judge ruled that Petersen was competent to stand trial after reviewing two evaluations by mental health professionals.

Petersen's attorney, Dusty Kawai, said the evaluators felt his client was "severely depressed," but he was able to understand the charges against him and assist in his defense.

Police say Petersen shot his son in the head with a .22-caliber rifle, then tried to turn the gun on himself at his home near 500 East and 500 North in American Fork. A family member reportedly intervened before he was able to take his own life.

"He was not in his right state of mind when he did this," Kawai said outside of court Monday.

Kawai said that while Petersen is still depressed, he has become more stable in the jail, and was taken off suicide watch a month and a half ago.

Kawai filed a written request for the competency hearing in June, saying his client may be suffering from a mental disorder that is preventing him from understanding the charges against him.

Kawai wrote in the filing that Petersen has asked more than 10 times for the judge to grant home confinement instead of requiring him to remain at the Utah County Jail during court proceedings. Petersen also has asked if the judge would allow his father to be taken into custody in exchange for his release because his father told him he would "trade places" with him if he could, according to the defense attorney.

Petersen also has asked if the judge would allow him to be given "lashes" or a whipping, in order to be released from jail, Kawai wrote in the filing. Kawai said when discussing penalties with Petersen, the man expressed a desire "to be put to death."

Prosecutors have yet to decide whether they will pursue the death penalty against Petersen.

"That decision is a long ways away in this case," Deputy Utah County Attorney Craig Johnson said Monday outside of court.

A status conference was set for Petersen for Sept. 20.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller