Trial postponed again for 2022 attempted murder case

Another evaluation sought for Luoma

SEQUIM — A trial date for a Sequim man charged with attempting to kill his neighbor nearly two years ago has been delayed again as his defense seeks another medical evaluation for him.

Judge Brent Basden of Clallam County Superior Court agreed to strike a March 25 trial start date for James Luoma, 68, after his attorney Karen Unger sought a continuance.

Unger said in court on March 7 that she’s been “diligently working to get (an evaluation) done with a huge delay to get medical testing at no fault to us or (Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Steven Johnson), who has been extremely helpful.”

Luoma was arrested on April 27, 2022, in the 700 block of West Heritage Loop in a Sequim manufactured home development, after he allegedly shot at and attacked his 49-year-old neighbor.

Sequim police report that Luoma sought a romantic relationship with his neighbor, but she didn’t reciprocate, according to court documents.

He is charged with first-degree attempted murder and first-degree burglary.

Luoma waived his right to a speedy trial date on March 7, as Unger said he’s facing 20 years in prison, so “for a few more months to mitigate the circumstances, he’s willing to wait.”

A hearing is set for 1 p.m. May 10 in Clallam County Superior Court that could determine a trial date, depending on if medical evaluations are finished.

Unger sought a trial continuance on March 4, according to court documents, because a letter from Dr. Claire Ashbaugh with Alpine Haven Psychology Services recommended repeating a neuropsychological evaluation of Luoma to complete her assessment of him after she saw “there were concerns for cognitive decline.”

Ashbaugh previously conducted a forensic evaluation of Luoma on Jan. 10-11 in conjunction with another doctor doing a neuropsychological evaluation of him in November 2022.

Ashbaugh wrote that “behavioral changes can occur due to a neurodegenerative condition affecting the frontal lobes, which is not always evident on neuroimaging (such as a brain CT or MRI), especially early in the course of the illness.”

“The only way to determine if such a condition is present is to evaluate for change over time,” she wrote.

“A repeat evaluation to compare his performance to the results obtained during the Nov. 11, 2022 evaluation is needed. If there is evidence of change, this would suggest declining frontal lobe functions (e.g. planning, inhibition, problem-solving) could have contributed to his behaviors associated with the alleged offense.”

Unger said in her request for a continuance that if Ashbaugh concludes “Luoma suffered from a mental health condition that would support a finding of diminished capacity or insanity at the time of the commission of this offense, the state would no doubt want to have (him) evaluated by its own expert.”

Johnson said he didn’t object to Unger seeking the evaluation.

Basden asked for clarity on why the evaluator sought more information on Luoma as he’s been in jail for almost two years, saying, “most people experience diminished capacity over time.”

Unger replied that she wants to know if Luoma was experiencing a decline in mental state due to his relationship with the neighbor.

She added that the evaluation might conclude he couldn’t regulate his control, that he could have, or that it’s unclear.

It was unknown how long it’d take to get another medical evaluation, Unger said. She and Johnson recommended a trial date in late August. However, Basden recommended a potential fall trial rather than the summer due to various vacations and an extensive witness list. They opted to check back in May 10 for an update on the medical evaluation rather than set any new dates.

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Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of newspapers Peninsula News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at matthew.nash@sequimgazette.com.

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