KANSAS CITY, KAN. A judge has ruled that a triple-murder suspect can be forced to take anti-psychotic medication so that he will be competent to stand trial.
Wyandotte County District Judge J. Dexter Burdette on Tuesday authorized the Wyandotte County Sheriff's Office to administer drugs to Marc V. Sappington, 24, after a psychiatrist testified that Sappington is a threat without the medication.
The case is one of the first in the country to fall under a recent Supreme Court ruling that narrows the instances when a state can forcibly medicate a defendant.
The court ruled June 16 that a state can't medicate an inmate solely to make that person competent to stand trial. One of the approved conditions for involuntarily medicating an inmate is when the person is considered dangerous.
Burdette's ruling clears the way for Sappington to stand trial on three counts of first-degree murder, possibly as early as mid-September.
Sappington is accused of killing two men and a teenager -- all of Kansas City, Kan. -- in April 2001. Police testified in January 2002 that Sappington cut up the teenager's body, then cooked and ate a small amount of his flesh. Sappington had planned to freeze the rest of the body and eat it later, a detective testified.
The body of Alton Brown Jr., 16, was found in four trash bags in the home where Sappington lived with his mother. The other two victims -- Michael Weaver Jr., 22, and Terry T. Green, 25 -- were not mutilated, investigators said.
Sappington had been scheduled for trial twice this year on the murder charges and one count each of kidnapping and aggravated burglary. Just before jury selection in January, he started having delusions and was determined incompetent to stand trial.
He was sent to Larned State Hospital, where he was evaluated and treated. Hospital staff determined in May that he was fit to stand trial, but forensic psychiatrist Dr. William Logan said Tuesday that Sappington suffered a relapse about two weeks ago and was no longer ready to go to court.
Sappington's attorney, Patricia Aylward Kalb, said her client had refused medication at least 11 times in July. She said Tuesday that she was pleased with the judge's ruling because it established protocol for administering Sappington's drugs.
"Marc wanted to be back on the medication," Kalb said. "Without the medication, he can't function, but it has to be the proper medication. Marc obviously has a problem."
Kalb said the combination of medication and stress over his pending trial made Sappington ill and tired, so he stopped taking the medication regularly last month.
Assistant Wyandotte district attorney Jerry Gorman said trial could begin in mid-September or early October, depending on Sappington's progress. He said there could be legitimate reasons for Sappington to refuse medication.
"If it has to do with a medical reason such as illness or a dosage problem, they need to assess that," Gorman said.
Logan, a prosecution witness, said the challenge for medical staff will be to determine the dosage to keep Sappington mentally well. He said that if Sappington is properly medicated, there should be no problem getting him to trial.
"If the dosage is right, he should be more alert and less distracted and able to concentrate," Logan said. "If the dosage is too high, he could appear sedated."
The psychiatrist compared Sappington's need for medication to that of someone with high blood pressure or diabetes. Like those two ailments, Sappington's mental condition is chronic and he will probably have to be on medication for the rest of his life.