Lawyer of alleged bulldozer rampager concerned over client’s state of mind
By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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At the same hearing, Barry Swegle, 51, said he wanted his attorney, Karen Unger, off the case.
Unger requested Friday that her client undergo a mental evaluation after a recent meeting between the two during which Unger said Swegle was not speaking rationally.
“I don’t think Swegle can adequately help me defend him,” Unger said.
“A lot of things he says do not make sense.”
Swegle already has undergone two mental evaluations — one at Unger’s request, the other at the prosecution’s — to determine whether diminished mental capacity played a role in the destruction Swegle is accused of wreaking on a Gales Addition neighborhood May 10.
The rampage destroyed or damaged four homes, a pickup truck, a power pole, a boat, a tractor and several outbuildings.
Swegle has been in the Clallam County jail on $1 million bail since the incident.
He has been charged with one count of first-degree assault with a deadly weapon and four counts each of first-degree malicious mischief and first-degree burglary with a deadly weapon — “to wit, a bulldozer.”
The incident made international headlines and will be featured in an episode of ABC News’ “20/20” focusing on neighbor disputes.
ABC producer Harry Phillips said Saturday the episode is tentatively scheduled to run this Friday on KOMO-TV at 10 p.m.
At Friday’s hearing, Swegle made clear his disappointment with the way Unger has been handling his case so far.
“I don’t want Ms. Unger as my lawyer anymore,” Swegle said toward the end of the hearing.
“I hired her. She’s fired.”
“You’re fired,” Swegle said while looking at Unger as he was led out of the courtroom back to jail after the hearing ended.
Unger said Saturday that Swegle would have to get the court’s permission to fire her since the case is so close to the trial date.
“Barry didn’t really want to fire me,” Unger said, adding that she’s known him for 30 years.
“He’s just upset.”
During the Friday hearing, Unger told Clallam County Superior Court Judge George Wood that the reasons Swegle gave for not accepting the state’s current plea offer during a recent meeting were delusional.
“When I left [the meeting], I was very concerned,” Unger said.
Unger said the reasons involved things Swegle said happened on his property, in his house, in a shed and in outbuildings, things Unger said she knows did not happen.
“He has said irrational things to me that I believe make it impossible for him to evaluate the [plea] offer,” Unger said.
John Troberg, the deputy Clallam County prosecuting attorney handling the Swegle case, said he could not comment on the details of the plea offer.
Troberg said during the hearing that he could not speculate on Swegle’s mental competency, though he cited a past police report that he said seems to indicate “delusional thinking.”
“[Swegle] called police when he thought he smelled urine in his house and told police someone must have broken in and urinated on his floor,” Troberg said.
“The officers could find no evidence of this.”
Next hearing Monday
Wood set the next hearing date in the case for 1 p.m. Monday in Superior Court, during which Wood is expected to issue an order for a mental competency evaluation.
Swegle told the judge during the hearing that Unger had failed in not bringing Dan Davis, one of the Gales Addition residents who had his home destroyed during the May rampage, to court so the property easement dispute that reportedly triggered the incident could be discussed.
Swegle also said he disagreed with the power of attorney his brother has over his belongings and that such action “was hiding his stuff from the court.”
“I’m not trying to hide my material things. What I did, I did for reasons.” Swegle said.
Swegle maintained that he wanted the case to go to trial, which is set for Sept. 24, pushed backed from an original start date of Sept. 9.
“Let’s go to trial,” Swegle said.
“If that’s what I’m entitled to, that’s what I want.”
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: September 14. 2013 4:47PM