Strolling by justice: A question of Curtis' competency - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Strolling by justice: A question of Curtis' competency

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Stan Curtis being wheeled out of the federal courthouse on Dec. 20, 2012. Stan Curtis being wheeled out of the federal courthouse on Dec. 20, 2012.
Stan Curtis during a Blessings In A Backpack event in Dec. 2011. Stan Curtis during a Blessings In A Backpack event in Dec. 2011.
Scott Cox Scott Cox
Dr. George Nichols Dr. George Nichols
Bart Adams Bart Adams

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It looked like a scene on TV - a husband and wife holding hands on a brisk walk, with their dog, on a beautiful summer day. But the man walking in Joe Creason Park on September 14 is the same man accused in September 2012 of stealing $183,000 from his nationally known charity, USA Harvest. If he's convicted, Stan Curtis faces up to 52 years in prison. But in the year since, Curtis hasn't spent much time in a courtroom and the big question is why. 

The man and his nationally known charity to feed the hungry were inspiring. The charges against him were just as shocking. Curtis allegedly stole $183,000 in donations to USA Harvest, cashing most of it into his personal account, and failed to report $553,000 in income to the IRS, as well as nearly $370,000 in travel expenses. Right after he was charged, his attorney, Scott Cox, said Curtis was hospitalized for reasons he wouldn't disclose. 

"He has multiple issues," said Cox. "They have affected him mentally." 

By January, Cox had already asked three times to delay Curtis' arraignment because of health issues. There were more delays and continuances in the months that followed. 

"I feel for him having to go through this along with the medical issues he's facing," said Nina Moseley, director of Wayside Christian Mission.  

Sometimes Curtis showed for court. Sometimes he didn't. When he was seen, it was in a wheelchair or with a cane. When they scheduled a hearing, thinking he was well enough, Cox said Curtis suddenly became confused and disoriented right before it. 

"All of us want him to be healthy so that he can participate in these legal proceedings," said Cox. 

There was not much explanation of what Curtis' illness was, except for a mention of a mental disease and brain damage due to weight loss. 

"This is the last thing in the world he wants. He wants to be here," said Cox. 

Three months ago, Curtis was ruled not competent to stand trial. Soon after, WAVE 3 News viewers began asking us to take a closer look because they said Curtis didn't look incompetent away from the courthouse. 

How does Curtis act and look these days when he doesn't think a camera's around?  We videotaped him going to the store, walking without a cane. 

Curtis leaves his home sometimes several times a day to do things, like going out to eat. We recorded him walking in and out of a Prospect bakery and café. 

Sometimes Curtis gets rides and sometimes he drives on his own. We recorded Curtis walking the 1.5 mile loop with his wife and dog at Creason Park with no cane and no apparent problem in his pace. We found his life doesn't look much different from the lives many people lead. 

While he was out walking his dog in the street in front of his home, I asked Curtis several questions. I asked about his health. I asked if he has been embellishing his condition so he doesn't have to deal with court. I also asked him if he has anything to say about any of this. Curtis refused to speak.

Cox said the way Curtis looks and acts has nothing to do with his legal competency. Cox said a government-retained expert concluded Curtis was not competent in May. As for those who think this does not look like he can't be tried, or plead guilty, Cox said, "You're not a physician."

So we showed the video to Dr. George Nichols, the former Kentucky state medical examiner who often serves as an expert witness in trials. Nichols said it's impossible to draw a conclusion without neurological tests, but he said Curtis is clearly in better condition than he was earlier this year.

"He's capable of walking uphill, downhill, or a distance exceeding several city blocks, unaided," said Nichols. "If his cognitive brain function has recovered to the point to match, his neuromuscular recovery, then he should be competent."

We called the federal prosecutor's office for comment, but did not get a return call. Bart Adams, a high profile defense attorney who's not involved in this case, said "It's highly unlikely, say 1 in 1,000," that Curtis could do the things we recorded, and not be legally competent.

Curtis is scheduled for his next hearing on September 23. Cox said the government expert has examined Curtis again to see if he's competent for trial, but Cox doesn't know the results yet.

Copyright 2013 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.

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