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Is Utah double murder suspect mentally ill – or is he faking it? A judge will now decide

Brandon Beau Warren is accused of killing two people in separate Magna shootings in 2015.

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune Brandon Beau Warren, who is charged with killing Stevan Ryan Chambers and Shelli Marie Brown in Magna in August 2015, makes an initial court appearance in Judge Ann Boyden's court Monday Nov. 7, 2016. His defense lawyer Patrick Corum, right.

Is Brandon Beau Warren mentally ill, and unable to go to trial on accusations that he killed two people — or is he faking it?

It’s a question now before a Utah judge, who must decide whether 26-year-old Warren should remain at the Utah State Hospital for continued treatment, or if the case against him should move forward.

Warren was charged in October 2016 with two counts of first-degree felony murder, accused of shooting Stevan Chambers and Shelli Marie Brown in August 2015 in Magna. He also is facing 11 firearms-related charges.

But a month before the murder charges were filed, Warren was deemed incompetent for trial in an unrelated case and sent to the state hospital for treatment. The murder case was stalled from the onset.

But prosecutors this week argued that Warren is feigning mental illness to avoid going to trial and to stay out of the Salt Lake County jail. They’ve asked 3rd District Judge Randall Skanchy to rule that Warren is competent, return him to the county jail and move the case forward.

Richard Spencer, a forensic psychiatrist at the state hospital, testified this week that while Warren has a bi-polar diagnosis and claims that the government and hospital staff are terrorists, he also exhibits signs that show he’s not mentally ill. He has no trouble eating, Spencer noted, and he sleeps fine. It would “extremely rare” for someone to suffer from a manic syndrome to sleep normally, he testified.

And it appears as if Warren has “figured out” the system, Spencer said. He detailed a time when Warren was given privileges, which included unsupervised visits. A woman claiming to be his mother came to visit him, Spencer testified, and it wasn’t until someone spotted Warren “making out like crazy” with the woman that staffers realized it was actually his girlfriend.

“It wasn’t his mother at all,” Spencer testified. “We were embarrassed by that. He got us on that one.”

Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Matthew Janzen argued Friday that these examples show that Warren puts on a “robe of delusion” when attorneys or evaluators are around, but isn’t actually mentally ill.

“That’s somebody who is competent who is playing the system,” Janzen argued. “Loving to play the system is what is driving the bus here, not any type of delusion or depression or mania. It’s simply a way to stall proceedings.”

But defense attorney Tawni Bugden argued that prosecutors were cherry-picking symptoms, and pointed out that Warren passed all the tests designed to ferret out those who are malingering.

Bugden argued that because state hospital staffers don’t believe Warren is mentally ill, he has thus far not been able to receive any medication while he’s been there. He should be able to try medication before resuming the case, she argued.

“Given the stakes, that this is a murder case, I just think we would be at a loss if we didn’t try it,” she said.

The judge on Friday opted to take the matter under advisement, and is expected to issue a written ruling.

(Courtesy) Stevan Ryan Chambers

Warren is accused of fatally shooting Chambers, 26, in a roadway near 2880 South and 9100 West in Magna on Aug. 17, 2015. Brown, 26, was found dead two days later in a park about a half-mile from where Chambers was shot.

(Courtesy) Shelli Marie Brown

Family members of Chambers and Brown said Friday they are frustrated by the competency delay, and said they believe Warren has been pretending to be mentally ill.

“The fear is at some point, they’ll just say, ‘Yeah, this guy is not competent,’ ” sister Tiffany Chambers said after the hearing. “And we never get justice for our loved ones.”

Sharalynda Moore, Brown’s cousin, said she believes Warren has learned to game the court system, and said she hopes the judge sees that.

“We definitely want a guilty verdict,” she said. “And if that takes months and years, then we’ll be patient. We’ll wait.”

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