POCATELLO — A hearing to determine the level of intellect for a local man accused of fatally stabbing a 25-year-old Pocatello woman to death in 2004 concluded Wednesday afternoon.
Accused murderer Brad Scott Compher, 46, of Pocatello, appeared in front of 6th District Senior Judge Stephen Dunn at the Bannock County Courthouse in Pocatello on Wednesday, the second and final day of a hearing in which Compher’s court-appointed attorneys argued he has had an intellectual disability since before he was 18 years old.
The determination of Compher’s level of intellect and whether or not any deficiencies amount to an intellectual disability diagnosis could result in prosecutors being prohibited from seeking the death penalty in the case, one in which Compher has been charged with felony first-degree murder and a felony enhancement for using a weapon during the commission of a felony crime for allegedly stabbing 25-year-old Nori Jones to death inside her Pole Line Road home in 2004.
Compher has been incarcerated at the Bannock County Jail since September 2014 after Pocatello police arrested him for allegedly killing Jones. His arrest followed a police investigation that uncovered DNA evidence placing him at Jones’ Pole Line Road home, the scene of the crime.
The legal battle over Compher’s level of intellect centers around a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court case of Atkins v. Virginia in which the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that executing people with intellectual disabilities violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments, but allowed for states to establish laws to determine who has an intellectual disability.
In 2003, Idaho implemented a law prohibiting capital punishment against those deemed “mentally retarded,” an archaic way of characterizing a person who presents sub-average general intellectual functioning.
The statute defines sub-average general intellectual functioning as a person with an IQ of 70 or below. In addition to the IQ requirement, the statute states a person is intellectually disabled when accompanied by “significant limitations in adaptive functioning in at least two of the following skill areas: communication, self-care, home living, social or interpersonal skills, use of community resources, self-direction, functional academic skills, work, leisure, health and safety.” The intellectual disability must present during the developmental stage, which the statute defines as any time before Compher turned 18 years old.
After Compher’s defense team — John Scott Andrew of the Bannock County Public Defender’s Office and contracted attorney Gary Edward Proctor, of Baltimore, who has an extensive background handling capital cases — presented its case Tuesday, Bannock County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Brian Trammel called his only witness to testify Wednesday.
Trammel’s witness, Ron Federici, is “regarded as the country’s expert in the neuropsychological evaluation and treatment of children having multi-sensory neurodevelopmental impairments, particularly children who have been adopted, both domestically and internationally,” according to his website. Federici testified remotely from Virgina via Zoom software after inclement weather prevented him from traveling to Pocatello.
Federici said he met with Compher in March 2020 for about 10 hours over two days, first collecting background information from him and then administering a multitude of tests to form a holistic diagnosis of Compher’s level of intellect.
Federici testified that while Compher struggled with language, learning, logic and listening, his visual perception skills were at an above average level, adding that if Compher had some type of global developmental delay, he would have scored low in both skill sets.
Further, Federici said that while he found Compher to have severe dyslexia and was not downloading data correctly, he was able to successfully pass a GED test designed to measure high school equivalency, obtain a driver’s license and briefly attend classes at Idaho State University. Federici claimed the three achievements coupled with the disclosure from Compher that he was able to care for his son by himself for about four years provided evidence that his adaptive functioning capabilities were strong enough that he wouldn’t meet the definition of being intellectually disabled.
Through cross-examination, Compher’s defense team noted that Federici was not an expert in intellectual disability, but rather an expert in developmental disability, which is a more overarching concept that encapsulates those with intellectual disabilities but can also include individuals who have experienced traumatic brain injuries.
Moreover, Proctor read declarations from the mother of Compher’s child and a woman in which he had a previous romantic relationship. Both women explained Compher lacked the ability to properly care for his son, failing to maintain a clean home, to launder his son’s clothes or set healthy boundaries between a father and a son.
Additionally, Federici pointed to previous IQ scores for Compher of 46 and 70 as likely being affected by continued drug and alcohol use, despite at least one of the scores coming from a test administered to Compher two years after he had been arrested and continuously incarcerated at the Bannock County Jail.
Both of the witnesses who testified for the defense Tuesday — James Patton, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin with 45 years of experience researching adaptive functioning and Marc Tasse, a professor at Ohio State University with over 30 years of experience in the field of intellectual disability — rebutted testimony from Federici on Wednesday.
Both Patton and Tasse testified Wednesday that Federici violated best practices in psychology, both in the way in which he administered tests to Compher and with the selection of tests to administer, of which some were intended for individuals much younger than Compher and in some cases for those who cannot speak.
Also, both Patton and Tasse explained that just because a person can pass a GED test and obtain a driver’s license doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t deficit in adaptive functioning skills.
Following the testimony Wednesday, Dunn asked both Compher’s defense team and Trammel to author written briefs arguing for and against, respectively, an intellectual disability determination for Compher. First, a court transcript of the hearing must be prepared, which Dunn estimated could take two weeks.
Dunn said he hopes to issue a written decision by the end of April. Dunn closed the hearing by offering sympathy to those involved for the complex nature of the case, particularly telling Compher that it couldn’t have been easy listening to the sensitive nature of the testimony.
Compher, who appeared in court wearing handcuffs and a yellow jumpsuit, sat mostly reactionless throughout the proceedings. He gave the judge a hang-loose symbol with his hands when offered sympathies.
No trial date has yet been scheduled in Compher’s case, though both Trammel and Proctor told the Idaho State Journal Wednesday they are unconcerned with that aspect of the case, understanding this portion is significant and must be resolved before the case can proceed.