Mental competency of Nevada County murder suspect questioned | TheUnion.com

Mental competency of Nevada County murder suspect questioned

Criminal proceedings against murder suspect Joseph Ward were suspended after his public defender raised a question regarding his mental competency.

Ward, 32, is accused of stabbing and killing Kenneth Pestana in June; his case had been set to go to trial Nov. 28 in Nevada County Superior Court.

But on Friday, Deputy Public Defender Tamara Zuromskis told Judge Candace Heidelberger that Ward refused to come to court, and that she wanted to declare a doubt as to his competency.

Heidelberger suspended criminal proceedings and ordered a psychological evaluation. Ward was scheduled to return to court Nov. 27.

Authorities have accused Ward of killing Pestana, 61, on the older man's property and then fleeing to Nevada. Ward fought extradition, but he was booked in late July into the Nevada County Jail.

During a preliminary hearing into the evidence in early October, an officer testified that Pestana had known Ward for about 20 years and referred to him as a son. But, the detective testified, Pestana also suspected Ward of having stolen lottery tickets from him just days before he was found dead.

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Other testimony in the hearing concerned another tenant growing marijuana on the property, as well as the victim's 1973 conviction for second-degree murder.

The detective said he responded to reports of a man down at the home in the 22000 block of Highway 20, finding Pestana dead in a cabin.

Witnesses at the property saw Ward leave the cabin where Pestana later was found, and he was linked to the disappearance of Pestana's dog and vehicle.

Ward was arrested in Carson City the next day, and Pestana's car was found outside the apartment of Ward's mother, authorities said.

Ward is just the most recent suspect in a serious violent crime whose mental competency has been evaluated. Earlier this week, a man facing attempted murder charges moved closer to trial after a Nevada County judge determined he was competent. Eugene Maravel, 68, is accused of stabbing two men at their North School Street home in August after he grew upset about a property issue.

In September, a judge suspended the murder case against Robert Steuber, 82, finding him incompetent and ordering a psychiatric evaluation. Authorities have accused Steuber of fatally shooting Sandra Lebarron during an argument at their Penn Valley home in July.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lkellar@theunion.com.