Mother accused of murder fit for trial

<p>Polanco</p>

A Milton-Freewater woman can stand trial for the death of her young boy in 2009, a circuit court judge in Pendleton has ruled.

The decision ends more than three years of state psychological evaluations and state hospital stays to determine if Loretta Maxine Polanco, 29, could aid and assist in her own defense.

Umatilla County Circuit Court Judge Chris Brauer said he ruled Monday. Four days of testimony and 7,000 pages of documents convinced him Polanco was competent to stand trial, he said Tuesday.

Umatilla County District Attorney Dan Primus said he was pleased with Brauer’s 10-page ruling.

“It’s nice to get moving forward,” Primus said.

Polanco’s attorney, Robert Raschio of The Dalles, wasn’t available for comment.

The state has accused Polanco of severely beating and abusing her 2-year-old boy and finally killing him Jan. 5, 2009, at her Milton-Freewater home. Polanco faces one count of murder, two counts of murder by abuse, three counts each of first- and second-degree manslaughter, four counts each of first- and second-degree assault and 15 counts each of first-degree criminal mistreatment and third-degree assault.

Polanco has undergone multiple psychological evaluations at Oregon State Hospital, Salem, to determine if she is competent to stand trial. Raschio argued at her last competency hearing June 22 that doctors at the state hospital concluded his client has mild mental retardation and some kind of psychosis, and two evaluations concluded Polanco would never be able to stand trial.

Dan Wendel, prosecutor for the Oregon Department of Justice, accused Polanco of feigning mental illness to avoid prosecution.

Brauer noted in his opinion that Polanco “has a long history of varying her effort during psychological testing in response to external incentives.”

The judge in his ruling cited intelligence tests that show Polanco isn’t mentally retarded and has demonstrated an understanding of legal processes.

For example, the judge noted, when Polanco faced termination of her parental rights, she worked hard for “favorable estimates of her abilities.” But when she faces “adverse consequences for higher test results” she “decreases her effort and therefore decreases the perception of her abilities.”

He also said Polanco’s IQ is “certainly no lower than borderline,” and years of observation have not shown she experiences “the kinds of breaks from reality” typical of many psychological disorders.

“The defendant has the capacity to stand trial,” Brauer concluded.

Primus said the ruling vindicates the state’s argument and witness statements that Polanco is capable of undergoing a criminal trial.

When that will happen is up in the air. The case has been in suspension since 2009 while Polanco’s mental status was in question. Primus said Polanco will first get a preliminary hearing, which usually allows attorneys and the judge to talk about how the case stands, and then the case will get a trial date. Those proceedings have not been set.

Polanco remains in custody at the Umatilla County Jail, Pendleton, where she has been since Feb. 20.

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Contact Phil Wright at pwright@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0833.

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