LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - In his opening statements in the competency trial for the woman charged with capital murder in connection to the August 2015 drowning death of her 3-year-old nephew, her defense attorney argued that she does not have a rational understanding of what is going on in court.
Tuesday marked the first day of Billie Jean Cuttler's competency trial in Judge Paul White's Judicial District Court. White ordered the trial back in June because there was a discrepancy between Cuttler's first mental health evaluation and the second one.
"If you accuse someone of a crime you have to make sure they are competent to stand trial," said Al Charanza, Cuttler's defense attorney. "It doesn't matter if it is a Class C in traffic court or a capital murder case."
April Perez, the prosecutor on the case chose not to make any opening statements.
Charanza told the jurors that the defendant in any criminal case has to have a rational understanding of what is going on in court.
The defense attorney explained that when he got the case in October, he went to the jail and met with Cuttler. He added that he started to believe that Cuttler is not competent to stand trial.
"I will show that something happened before the age of 18 that will show she was mentally incompetent," Charanza said.
Cuttler was premature when she was born and almost died, Charanza said. He said she was also exposed to lead.
"She's lucky to be alive," Charanza said.
Charanza said he believes Cuttler is not able to make rational decisions in the court setting. He also told the jurors that Cuttler is moderately mentally disabled.
The first witness to take the stand was Dr. Joseph Kartye.
Kartye said when he evaluated Cuttler she has a brain injury that has affected all areas. Kartye said most people at least have a high area but hers were flat and extremely low.
Kartye said he met Cuttler on April 13.
Charanza then showed Kartye school records for Cuttler from Port Jervis, New York and from Vernon Parish in Louisiana.
Kartye said he met with the jail nurse who said two other inmates took her under their wing because they didn't want others to take advantage of her because of her mental capability.
"She said, 'I don't know a lot,'" Kartye said.
Kartye said he tried to teach her a simple concept but she couldn't pick it up.
Kartye said it was very easy to get Cuttler to change her mind and change her answers.
Kartye said Cuttler, in his opinion, is not competent. Kartye said Cuttler did not do anything that would make it appear she was trying to fake her competency.
Kartye said he looked at her school and medical records after he talked to Cuttler.
Kartye said when she was born she was put in ICU and resuscitated three times. The mental health expert also said she was identified as having an intellectual disability in the first grade.
Kartye said Cuttler cannot live alone and is at an education level of kindergarten.
"She could not learn in a regular classroom," Kartye said. "She was in a self-contained setting."
Kartye said she graduated as a special education student which has different standards. He explained that Cuttler's intellectual disability has been going on since birth.
Kartye said Cuttler knew who the president was but didn't know what Independence Day was or simple math such as 5+6=11.
During her cross examination, Kartye told Perez that it did not appear Cuttler lied at all or changed her answers.
Kathy Rolland, a special education teacher from Leesville High School, was next to talk about Cuttler. Rolland retired 2 years ago but taught for 30 years. Rolland taught Cuttler in the 2013-14 school year. Rolland said Cuttler knows numbers and letters but could not do simple math. Rolland said she also taught several family members that were also considered mentally disabled.
"She is a follower. She stayed to herself," Rolland said.
Rolland said the class would volunteer with 4 year olds and when they did, Cuttler would appear more comfortable with them.
"I'm concerned for my former student," Rolland said. "I'm close to the Cuttler family. ... Billie Jean was always a happy student. She always had a smile."
When asked by Perez what would qualify Cuttler for trial, Rolland told Perez at firsts he was not sure of the question but then said Cuttler is only be moderately disabled and does not know much of the process of court and her rights.
Rolland told Perez that she has not talked to Cuttler about court. However, she thought she didn't know anything because of how she acted. Rolland said Cuttler had practiced writing and had good penmanship. Rolland said Cuttler would lie.
"Sometimes she would not want to be in class and would lie about being sick," Rolland said.
Rolland said she never did a major lie but it was possible she could.
Cuttler's aunt, Geane Oates, said she had been this was since a baby and did not know simple things. Oates said Cuttler did not remember Charanza's name. Oates also said her niece is easily influenced.
Dauira Cuttler, Cuttler's sister said she could do simple things but nothing complex like baking a cake. Dauira also said she can write simple letters.
"She can write love and draw hearts," Dauira Cuttler said.
Dauira Cuttler told Perez she only talks to Cuttler once or twice a month. Dauira said she could only see or talk to her on Sundays. Dauira Cuttler said her sister does not know what the tests were for.
The first witness for the state was Angelina County Sheriff's Office Detective Jeff Farmer.
Farmer said at first, Cuttler was quiet, but when he simplified his questions, she was able to answer. In a recorded interview, Cuttler told Farmer she remembered him from before. Cuttler said that a lie is when you say something that is not true. Throughout the video interview, Cuttler answered with one- word answers and then longer answers.
Eventually in the interrogation, Cuttler opened up with longer explanations about why she and Woods did what they did. Cuttler started talking more and using less, "I don't know" responses. Farmer told Cuttler that he could tell she was telling the truth because she looked different and talked different. Cuttler said, "Yes,sir." Cuttler told Farmer she was able to because she was waking up. In his interview, Farmer mixed up Cuttler and Woods' name and Cuttler corrected him for the third time.
Cuttler also talked about babies and a discussion she had with Woods.
"I said we don't have a baby right now because babies cost a lot and diapers are expensive," Cuttler said.
Later in the video, Cuttler ,also was able to tell Farmer certain things happened on certain days. Cuttler also talked about knowing that Mason wore a life jacket at the lake.
Cuttler then started to talk about Woods and the day Mason died. Cuttler talked about feeling bad and Woods coming home and changing his clothes. Cuttler said she didn't say anything because she was upset and angry.
In the video, Cuttler told Farmer that she was not pregnant and that she knew she wasn't because she'd had her period. Cuttler continued and said she felt bad because she should not have let it happen.
"I was close to Mason," Cuttler said. "He was jealous of our relationship."
Cuttler said she should get probation for what she did. She agreed with Farmer that she wanted to but changed her mind. Farmer told Perez that he never talked about probation with Cuttler.
Farmer told Charanza that he didn't tell Cuttler what Woods said because he didn't want to influence her answers.
Back in May, Cuttler's defense team requested that her bail amount be lowered. At the time, White said he would not discuss lowering her bail until after the second mental health evaluation.
Previously, the court said it may consider revoking the statements Cuttler made to the Angelina County Sheriff's Office because of her intellectual disabilities, depending on how she did on the competency evaluation.
Cuttler and Bobby Woods Jr. are both facing capital murder charges for the death of Mason Cuttler. Back in March, April Perez, the prosecutor on the case, said that Cuttler will not be facing the death penalty. If she is found competent to stand trial and is found guilty, she will have to serve life in prison without parole.
According to the arrest affidavit for Woods, ACSO Lt. Brett Maisel and Texas Ranger Steven Rayburn interviewed Woods, who said he took Mason to the pond, pushed him into the water, and watched him as he began to drown. He allegedly turned his back to him, making no attempt to rescue him, despite Mason's cries for help.
The affidavit states Woods said he wanted Mason to die because his girlfriend was pregnant and he wanted to make room in the home for his unborn child.
However, Charanza, told East Texas News she was never pregnant.