Competency hearing in Port Angeles bulldozer case delayed by request for formal plea offer
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Barry Swegle enters Clallam County Superior Court in Port Angeles for a status hearing in this file photo. — Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The retained attorney for a Port Angeles man accused of driving a bulldozer through a Gales Addition neighborhood in May wants a formal plea offer before continuing discussions on Barry Alan Swegle’s competency to stand trial.

Attorney Karen Unger, representing Swegle, 51, said at a Wednesday hearing that she would prefer to discuss a formal plea offer with her client, when offered, so she can better decide on whether he is competent to stand trial.

“[The state] mentioned a plea before. We discussed it, but I don’t have a written plea offer,” Unger said.

Superior Court Judge George Wood asked Unger on Wednesday whether she believes Swegle is competent to proceed with trial.

“I have some questions,” Unger said.

Deputy County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Conroy, covering for Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Troberg during Wednesday’s hearing, said he likely will need to consult with Troberg after he returns from vacation next week about a formal plea offer.

“It’s a very complicated case, from what I can tell,” Conroy said.

Wood set the next Superior Court hearing for Swegle for March 28 at 9 a.m.

The most recent mental evaluation of Swegle by psychologists at Western State Hospital in Lakewood concluded that he is competent to stand trial, adding that the competency decision is ultimately up to a judge.

Unger during a hearing last week called the report “probably one of the most irresponsible reports” she has ever read.

Swegle had been deemed incompetent to stand trial and was ordered by Wood on Nov. 1 to undergo restorative treatment at Western State Hospital.

Swegle had been at the hospital since. His jury trial has been delayed indefinitely.

Swegle returned to Clallam County last week and remains in the county jail on $1 million bond.

Swegle allegedly destroyed or damaged four homes, a tractor, a boat, a pickup truck, a power pole and multiple outbuildings in a Gales Addition neighborhood just east of Port Angeles while on a logging bulldozer he owned May 10 of last year.

The incident made international headlines and was featured in a September episode of ABC News’ “20/20” focusing on neighbor disputes.

Swegle is 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.”

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 19. 2014 7:07PM
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