Defense for man accused of shooting Auburndale police officer claims he's incompetent to stand trial

Judge expected to rule within a week

BARTOW, Fla. - The defense team for the man accused in the attempted murder of an Auburndale Police Officer claims he is incompetent to stand trial.

During a competency hearing Friday, the defense argued that Michael Lester was drunk and doesn't remember what happened, therefore can't participate in his trial.

Officer Stacey Booth remembers it well. She was responding to a 911 hang-up call last September when she got shot twice, just moments after ringing the doorbell at Lester's home.

Investigators say Lester fired an assault rifle through the front door. Booth is still recovering from her injuries to this day.
"His blood-alcohol content was very high.  It converted to a .31," said Dr. Robert Moering, a psychologist called to the stand by the defense during Friday's hearing.

Moering was the lone witness to say Lester isn't fit to stand trial.

"He's not able to. He has no recollection of the day. He can't discuss what happened because he doesn't know what happened," he said.

To counter the claim, the state called two other doctors to the stand.

"He is able to rationally discuss what is going on with the case, what he's accused of doing," said Dr. Tracy Harting, psychologist.

Another expert, Dr. William Kremper, said, "Just because a defendant does not recall specifics events related to the crime does not render him incompetent to proceed."

Lester's public defender, Terri Stewart, fought long and hard for a favorable ruling.  From her perspective, it's difficult to defend a client who can't remember what happened.

"It's an important constitutionally that Mr. Lester be able to participate in his defense," she said. "Being able to say I don't know or I don't recall does not assist him in participating in his defense."

Much of the hearing centered around medical jargon, involving competency tests and scales, but some new facts did surface.

During cross examination, Dr. Moering revealed the few things Lester does remember, like walking around with a bottle of vodka that night and seeing bullet holes through the door.

Assistant State Attorney, Vitoria Avalon added this critical statement: "He also related to you, Dr. Moering, that he was, and I quote, 'probably suicidal' because he knew he screwed up when he shot through the door, right?"

 "I do see that quote, yeah," he responded.

The judge is expected to rule on the competency hearing within the next week.

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