Expert testifies in Hines hearing

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Witness advised Hines is competent, understands charges

By Sarah Bennett

Hardin Circuit Judge Kelly Mark Easton heard half of the expert testimony Tuesday in a competency hearing for Joshua N. Hines, an Elizabethtown man accused of killing his neighbor in April.

Hines, 24, is charged with murder in the shooting death of his neighbor, Toni M. Ballard, at her 6932 Bardstown Road home, according to Kentucky State Police. Investigators arrived after Hines called 911, informing police he shot his neighbor and might have killed her.

Hines told investigators the revolver recovered from his home, which had three spent shell casings, was the weapon used, police say.

Dr. Amy Trivette, a psychiatrist from the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center in LaGrange, testified on behalf of the commonwealth. Hines spent about a month at the center for evaluation.

Trivette ultimately advised though Hines suffers unspecified anxiety and personality disorders, he is competent and understands the court system and the seriousness of his charges and their consequences.

The psychiatrist told the court she had been a member of the KCPC staff for more than four years and estimated she had participated in 500 competency evaluations.

Defense attorney Heather Strotman of the Department of Public Advocacy filed a motion to continue the competency hearing Oct. 28 so the defense could present its own expert witness. Easton approved the motion.

Prior to admission at the LaGrange facility, Hines was not on any medication and never had received medical treatment for psychiatric disorders, Trivette said. After admission, he was prescribed a low dose of Celexa, an antidepressant also used to treat anxiety.

Trivette described Hines’ demeanor as “sullen,” focusing on negative thoughts. The accused avoids the stress of his situation by focusing his attention on “mundane” things, she said, such as “a snake coming out of the toilet and biting him on the bottom” or “a rock falling out of the sky and hitting him.”

KCPC staff encouraged Hines to redirect his thoughts toward the positive, but Trivette said Hines’ personality style is to focus on the negative.

Ultimately, Hines answered all questions appropriately and tested at a level of average intelligence, she said. Furthermore, he demonstrates general knowledge of court procedure, understanding of his current situation and motivation to seek a positive outcome.

“The small matters are a distraction for him,” Trivette said.

In addition to alcohol abuse and a family history of mental illness, the psychiatrist said Hines had a history of suicidal thoughts and attempts. She described an incident at age 17 and said Hines reported he was experiencing suicidal thoughts again in the days leading up to Ballard’s death.

Throughout the hearing, Hines remained seated next to his defense attorneys. He did not speak and gazed at the floor, occasionally bouncing his leg.

In questioning Trivette, Strotman pressed the psychiatrist to elaborate on her diagnosis of a personality disorder unspecified.

Trivette described Hines as possessing a “maladaptive way of interacting with the world” and struggling with self-identity, symptoms of personality disorder but not a specific classification of that mental illness.

Strotman also questioned Trivette about a recommendation the Hardin County Detention Center’s nurse made. The public defender said a jail nurse recommended Hines be prescribed an anti-psychotic medication.

“He’s not psychotic,” Trivette said in response.

The competency hearing will continue next month in Easton’s courtroom and the defense is expected to present an expert witness. Strotman requested Trivette be subpoenaed in case she need to answer follow-up questions.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Heather Paynter asked that the pre-trial conference scheduled for Monday be pushed back to Nov. 7, which the judge approved.

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.