Trial looms for mentally ill man suspected in 2 slayings

The Charenton man suspected in the fatal shootings of a Chitimacha tribe police officer and another man in January 2013 was evaluated last week by state psychiatrists, who will weigh in on whether Wilbert Thibodeaux is mentally fit to stand trial.

Thibodeaux, 49, was evaluated at Louisiana’s mental hospital in Jackson on July 14. The results of the all-day sanity test could open up a path for Thibodeaux to one day stand trial in St. Mary Parish on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.

Or he may never stand trial.

“It wouldn’t be extremely unusual to never get him to trial,” said Paul Marx, who heads the Public Defender’s Office for the 15th Judicial District. Marx’s office represents low-income defendants in Lafayette, Vermilion and Acadia parishes. Marx has no connection to the Thibodeaux case but has defended many like him.

“I’ve had some who have never been able to go to trial,” he said.

Thibodeaux has been an inmate in the mental ward at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel since he was arrested Jan. 26, 2013. St. Mary Parish detectives believe Thibodeaux shot to death 78-year-old Eddie Lyons and Chitimacha tribal police Officer Rick Riggenbach, who was 52 and a veteran cop who had responded to a report of Thibodeaux walking down a Charenton street armed with a gun.

Thibodeaux also is accused of burning down Lyons’ mobile home and trying to kill two sheriff’s deputies who responded to the shootings.

Prosecutors in August 2013 told state district Judge Keith Comeaux they will seek the death penalty.

Craig Colwart, Thibodeaux’s lead public defender, said psychiatrists who evaluated Thibodeaux last Monday will write a report for Judge Comeaux to use in determining whether Thibodeaux, on medication, is mentally competent to stand trial.

The report should be completed in two to three months, Colwart said, but he couldn’t say when Comeaux would rule.

Colwart said the mental competency issue is but one part of the long drama.

“If they come back and say he’s competent, then we have to go through whether he was insane at the time of the offense,” Colwart said. “Could he tell right from wrong at the time?”

If Thibodeaux is ruled incompetent to stand trial, the road to a trial is blocked until the day he is deemed mentally stable and cognizant enough to face his accusers in court.

In the 18 months since Riggenbach and Lyons were killed, Colwart and other public defenders have tried to collect records documenting the mental health problems that have plagued Thibodeaux since he was young.

Neighbors in Charenton said that although Thibodeaux had mental issues all his life, he had never been violent until January 2013.

Colwart said the records unearthed — such as those documenting an extended stay at a Texas mental facility one month before the shootings — were given to the psychiatrists at the mental hospital in Jackson last Monday.

“Because this is a first-degree murder case, with all the complications … we wanted to get as much information about his situation to the doctors,” Colwart said.

Thibodeaux also has been uncooperative, refusing at times to meet with attorneys who traveled from St. Mary Parish to the Elayn Hunt prison in Iberville Parish to discuss his case. And he has refused to sign legal documents needed to help his defense, Colwart said.