Ed Meyer

An independent forensic psychologist has been appointed to evaluate whether young murder defendant Shawn Eric Ford Jr. is competent to stand trial for the slayings of a prominent New Franklin couple, court records show.

Ford, 18, was charged under a Summit County capital murder indictment in connection with the April 2 bludgeoning deaths of Jeffrey Schobert, 56, and his wife, Margaret “Peg” Schobert, 59, inside the master bedroom of their Rex Lake Drive home in the Portage Lakes area.

Authorities identified a sledgehammer as one of the murder weapons.

Although all parties directly involved in the case are prohibited from commenting on details outside of court, it is known that Ford’s psychological evaluation could lead to a lengthy delay in criminal court proceedings, if the expert determines Ford is not competent to stand trial.

Under a finding of incompetency in an aggravated murder case, the defendant can be sent to a mental health facility for treatment and continuing evaluation, according to Ohio law, for as long as one year.

The legal definition of incompetency means the defendant is not capable of understanding the nature and objective of the proceedings, or of assisting attorneys in mounting a defense.

Common Pleas Judge Tom Parker, who is in charge of Ford’s case, granted a defense motion June 13 to use forensic psychologist Dr. Robert L. Byrnes of Akron for the evaluation.

Under Parker’s order, Byrnes must complete his examination within 30 days of that date and file a written report with the court.

There also are provisions in the judge’s order for Byrnes’ recommendations for treatment if he finds Ford is “presently mentally ill or mentally retarded.”

Ford has filed a written plea of not guilty by reason of insanity through his defense attorneys, lead counsel Donald R. Hicks and co-counsel Jonathan T. Sinn.

April Wiesner, chief spokesperson for the Summit County Prosecutor’s Office, said the gag order Parker issued “prevents us from commenting on anything pertaining to this case.”

Based on capital murder case guidelines, however, a finding of incompetency would not mean Ford never would stand trial for the Schobert slayings. It simply would mean he would continue receiving treatment, in a facility such as the Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare center in Northfield, until he can be restored to competency.

The facility is under the auspices of the Ohio Department of Mental Health.

In such cases, it is common for the state to restore a defendant to competency, usually within six months, several veteran Summit County defense lawyers said.

Ford’s case, under the court’s previous finding of indigency, is paid for with taxpayers’ money.

Parker has established an expenditure of funds for Byrnes’ fees at the rate of $200 per hour, and “not to exceed the sum of $4,000 without prior court approval.”

Ohio law mandates that all capital murder defendants must be represented by two attorneys because of the legal complexities and length of such cases.

Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or at emeyer@thebeaconjournal.com.