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Judge: Man mentally competent to face charges of shooting at Alaska troopers

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Posted: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 12:07 am | Updated: 9:09 am, Tue Jul 2, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — A 77-year-old man is mentally capable to face charges that he shot at two Alaska State Troopers, a Fairbanks judge ruled Monday.

After hearing from two psychologists, two jail employees and a legal guardian, Superior Court Judge Michael McConahy ruled that Stanley Pieniazek will have to face felony assault charges, maybe as soon as this summer. He is accused of opening fire on two troopers from the back of a camper on Madcap Lane near the University of Alaska Fairbanks in May 2012. No one was hurt in the exchange of gunfire.

Pieniazek attended Monday’s competency hearing in the orange jumpsuit of Fairbanks Correctional Center inmates who are kept in isolation. He’s a small man with thinning gray hair, who originally came to Alaska from Poland around 1970, worked on the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and became an American citizen in the mid-1980s, according to court testimony. He sat quietly during Monday’s two-hour hearing. His comprehension of English was one of the main issues contested Monday afternoon.

To obtain a ruling that Pieniazek was not competent to stand trial, the burden of proof was on Assistant Public Defender Steve Hansen to show Pieniazek was not capable of assisting in his legal defense.

Correctional officers at Fairbanks Correctional Center testified he’s a difficult inmate, known for refusing to take showers, hoarding old food for days in milk cartons and for being incommunicative, capable of short English conversations on good days, but more likely to yell in Polish on bad days. He’s had no visitors except for one from the Polish consulate, whom Pieniazek refused to see, a correctional officer testified.

A psychologist testified for the defense that he believed Pieniazek has Alzheimer’s disease and is losing his social and language skills to dementia. A psychologist testifying for Assistant District Attorney Andrew Baldock had a different theory. She testified she believes Pieniazek is malingering, lying about mental illness symptoms to avoid criminal prosecution.

Pieniazek’s mental competency has been called into question. In a 2011 misdemeanor case, Pieniazek was found guilty of trespassing on a neighbor’s property after Judge Jane Kauvar found him competent to face charges. On Monday, McConahy said he agreed with the previous competency ruling and felt the evidence showed Pieniazek was more likely to be manipulative than suffering from mental illness.

“He does know what he is charged with, and he does know the roles of the various participants,” McConahy said.

Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMcrime.

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