After questions about whether he was faking mental illness, a Utah man accused of killing two people is now competent and will face trial

( Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune ) Brandon Beau Warren, 25, who is charged with killing Stevan Ryan Chambers and Shelli Marie Brown in Magna in August 2015, makes a court appearance in 2016. His defense lawyer Patrick Corum is at right.

For more than three years, two families have waited for the man who authorities believe killed their loved ones to face trial for their deaths.

But the case has been stalled from the onset — the accused killer, Brandon Beau Warren, had been deemed not competent in an unrelated case just weeks before prosecutors filed murder charges against him in October 2016.

Until now.

This week, a judge ruled that Warren is now competent to proceed with the case, where he is facing first-degree felony murder charges for allegedly killing Stevan Chambers and Shelli Marie Brown in separate shootings in 2015.

The judge’s ruling was a relief to the families — who, along with prosecutors, thought Warren was feigning mental illness to avoid going to trial and to stay out of the Salt Lake County jail.

“For three years, we along with the Browns have endured unimaginable pain at the loss of our loved ones,” Tiffany Chambers, Stefan’s sister, wrote in an email Tuesday. “The hardest part is watching my mom’s and Shelli’s mom’s heart break over and over again. We really need justice to prevail and this brutal double homicide FINALLY see some justice.”

Now, the criminal case can move forward with a preliminary hearing scheduled for mid-April. At that hearing, prosecutors will present evidence and a judge will decide whether there is probable cause for Warren to go to trial on the charges. It’s a hearing that is usually held within a few weeks or months after a case has been filed — but that was delayed for Warren because of the questions raised about his ability to understand the charges against him and assist in his own defense.

“We are happy they finally realized he has been manipulating the system,” Tiffany Chambers said. “Yet we are worried he will start to play sick again before April.”

In January, prosecutors had argued that Warren was faking mental illness when attorneys or competency evaluators were around to stall the court proceedings.

To bolster their argument, they brought in Richard Spencer, a forensic psychiatrist at the Utah State Hospital, to testify about Warren’s behavior at the state facility. Spencer testified that while Warren has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and claimed that the government and hospital staff are terrorists, he also exhibited signs that show he’s not mentally ill. He had no trouble eating, Spencer noted, and he slept fine. It would be “extremely rare” for someone suffering from a manic syndrome to sleep normally, he testified.

Spencer said it appeared Warren had “figured out” the system. 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 she was actually his girlfriend.

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

Warren’s defense attorneys had argued that he was mentally ill and said he should be able to receive medication at the state hospital before going to trial on the charges. State hospital staffers, they said in January, had not been giving Warren medication because they believed he was faking illness.

Third District Judge Randall Skanchy ultimately ruled Warren was not competent a month later, and the defendant was treated for eight more months at the state hospital before he was deemed competent this week.

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 at Magna Park, about a half-mile from where Chambers was shot.

Shell casings from a .380-caliber gun were found near both bodies, according to charging documents, and ballistics testing found the casings were all fired from the same gun.