Key witness in Trenton murder trial may not be fit to take stand
The mental state of a key witness in David Noncent’s upcoming murder trial remains up in the air despite a report from the woman’s psychiatrist declaring her competent to testify.
A judge said at a hearing Wednesday he would ultimately decide at trial the fitness of the woman to testify. Prosecutors want to tape her testimony at an upcoming hearing outside of the jury’s presence while she is still competent and play it for a jury at trial if she is deemed incompetent in the future.
Attorneys for Noncent, a convicted sex offender who is accused of fatally stabbing 26-year-old Courtney Levine on Dec. 4, 2012, began probing the woman’s mental state after they learned she was committed to a state psychiatric facility.
The woman, the victim’s sister, was previously dating Noncent and had accused him of sexually assaulting her shortly after she was released from the hospital where she gave birth to her dead baby, prosecutors have said.
Levine confronted Noncent after he learned of the alleged rape of his sister, who was still traumatized after her child died as doctors tried to deliver her baby through a cesarean section.
Levine bled out after he was stabbed once in the chest, piercing his lung.
The circumstances surrounding the commitment of Levine’s sister remain cloudy. The only explanation offered in court was that she had been involuntarily committed to Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Hammonton following a “crisis situation.”
The woman was hospitalized at St. Francis Medical Center before that, said Nicole Carlo, an attorney for Noncent.
Carlo said she has obtained the woman’s medical records and plans to have an expert review them so he or she can determine whether the witness is competent.
Carlo said she was unsure whether her expert would need to evaluate the woman in order to make that determination.
Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Kimm Lacken objected to having a defense-appointed expert evaluate the witness on the grounds that her competency is no longer in question. She said the woman’s psychiatrist deemed her fit, although she conceded the woman’s mental state is constantly in flux depending on whether she takes her medication.
Billmeier warned the prosecutor he would be left with no choice but to rule the witness incompetent if she is not well enough to go forward on the day of trial. He said he was also leery of the idea of allowing prosecutors to tape the woman’s testimony at a pretrial hearing and use it at trial if she is ruled mentally unavailable going forward.
Billmeier said it was only fair to the defendant that a jury be allowed to hear from the witness in person so it could assess her credibility.