American Fork dad charged with murdering infant son competent to stand trial

Published: Monday, Sept. 9 2013 3:07 p.m. MDT

Joshua Petersen is led from the courtroom after making his initial appearance at the 4th District Court in Provo Monday, April 15, 2013. Petersen is charged with killing his 5-month-old son.

Mark Johnston

PROVO — An American Fork man charged with murdering his 5-month-old son was "not in his right state of mind" at the time of the shooting, his attorney said Monday.

But 4th District Judge Darold McDade determined Monday that Joshua Petersen, 22, is competent to stand trial for the death.

Many who look at this case ask how someone who was thinking clearly could shoot and kill their infant son, which is what they should be asking, defense attorney Dusty Kawai said.

"I mean he was not in his right state of mind when he did this. (He was) absolutely severely depressed at the time. This is not a man who acted out of hate or out of spite, but in his way he was acting out of love. He wanted to leave this life and he wanted to leave the pains of this life behind with him and his son, and unfortunately it just was just a tragic accident for him," he said.

A competency evaluation was ordered for Petersen. In August, Kawai said there were discrepancies in the evaluation. But those matters seemed to be resolved as the defense, prosecution and the judge agreed with the evaluation's findings that Petersen is competent to stand trial.

"That's a positive outcome for today and so now we can go forward with making the decision to go onto a preliminary hearing and onto trial ultimately," deputy Utah County attorney Craig Johnson said.

The competency evaluation measures a defendant's current mental condition and ability to stand trial, Johnson said.

"Certainly, we would not have charged the case if we felt he was insane and couldn't from the mental intent to kill his son," he said. "The fact we've charged that and are going forward with that indicates that we do have a strong belief that we can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt — both that he did it and that he acted with the required mental intent."

Kawai said he is working with prosecutors about a possible plea bargain to spare the family and victims "the ordeal of going through trial."

"At the same time, the resolutions that are currently on the table are, um, they're not ideal for anyone," he said, explaining that prosecutors see this case as punishable by the death penalty or a sentence of life in prison.

Petersen is accused of shooting his young son in the head with a .22-caliber rifle at his American Fork home, 582 N. 500 East, on April 5. Family members said he then was going to kill himself, but they stopped him. He had just broken up with the baby's mother, the family said. Petersen told police that he had been planning to kill his son for a month, investigators said.

Petersen's next court hearing will be Sept. 30.

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