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Mother’s competency to stand trial questioned

MURRAY – The Murray couple indicted on murder and criminal abuse charges last month appeared for the first time before Calloway Circuit Court Judge Andrea Moore this morning for their respective arraignments. While one proceeded as per usual, the other was continued after concerns regarding that defendant’s competency to stand trial were raised.

Chyanne Niemeyer and Nathaniel Gibson were arrested on Oct. 23 and charged with first-degree murder and first-degree criminal abuse of a child under the age of 12 following the death of Niemeyer’s 17-month-old daughter, and on Nov. 27, the grand jury upheld those charges when it returned the indictments. 

Last Thursday, Niemeyer’s attorney Cheri Riedel, directing attorney for the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy Murray Trial Office, filed a notice with the court questioning her client’s competency to stand trial. In the filing, Riedel cited her interactions with Niemeyer and “other information obtained” as the basis for her belief that, “as a result of intellectual disability, Miss Niemeyer lacks the capacity to appreciate the nature and consequences of the proceedings against her and to participate rationally in her own defense.”

From left: DPA attorney Cheri Riedel, Circuit Court Judge Andrea Moore, Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Foust JESSICA PAINE/The Murray Sentinel

The notice is consistent with a motion Riedel filed in advance of Niemeyer’s indictment last month wherein she requested that a 2011 psychiatric evaluation, which characterized Niemeyer as having “extremely low intellectual and adaptive functioning” abilities, be presented to the grand jury. 

At the time, there was no ruling on the motion as the case had advanced from district court, but without an indictment, it was not under the jurisdiction of the circuit court; however, Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Foust advised his office would abide by the defense’s request. 

It is not known whether the grand jury considered that evaluation as grand jury proceedings are closed. The prosecution presents its case, but the defense is not allowed to participate; however, the defense can request video footage of the proceedings during the discovery phase of the trial, which is the formal process of exchanging information that will be presented during the trial. 

Niemeyer’s arraignment, which, like Gibson’s, was originally scheduled for 9:30 a.m. but was moved to 8 a.m. following a docket change last week, could not proceed today because her competency to stand trial has been brought into question. Now, she will need to undergo a psychiatric evaluation and be deemed competent before she can be formally arraigned. A review hearing was scheduled for Monday, Jan. 22, at 9:30 a.m. to allow the defense enough time to explore options for experts to perform the necessary evaluations and request funding from the court to pay for those services.

Riedel requested the judge enter a discovery order to initiate the discovery phase, but Moore said she thought it best to wait before proceeding any further. Riedel explained that having more information could have bearing on how the defense proceeds in pursuing Niemeyer’s evaluation. “You can file a motion, and the court will rule on that,” Moore advised.  

Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Foust sits at the prosecutors’ table during Monday’s proceedings. JESSICA PAINE/The Murray Sentinel

After the hearing, Foust told the Sentinel that his office is requesting the evaluation be conducted through the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center (KCPC). 

“If they’re going to raise competency issues, then we need to be able to, well, we’re gonna have to have an evaluation also,” he said and added, “If KCPC makes a determination that’s adverse to the Commonwealth, well, we’d be kind of stuck with that, but we need to have that done so that we can know how we’re going to be able to proceed.” 

But it is well-known that KCPC has faced an alarming backlog of competency evaluations for years. Last December, Lexington television station LEX18 reported that 302 defendants across the state were waiting for evaluations from KCPC before their cases could continue. At that time, wait times ranged from 0-1,031 days, with the average wait being 179 days. According to Foust, there has been little improvement.

“The KCPC backlog is substantial,” he said. “I don’t want to tell you it’s 12 months – it could well be – I don’t know for certain, but it’s substantial; I know that. So, that’s not going to be a fast-track process. We’re going to try to get it done as quickly as possible, but they are so backlogged. I know a couple of months ago we were told that it was an eight-month backlog. Where it is now, I don’t know.”

During Gibson’s arraignment, Zanda Myers, a Bowling Green attorney who is serving as Gibson’s public defender, was reappointed to represent Gibson in the proceedings against him in Calloway Circuit Court. Gibson waived formal reading of the indictment and entered a plea of not guilty. Moore ordered discovery and reciprocal discovery and set a status hearing for Monday, Jan. 22, at 9:30 a.m.

Nathaniel Gibson, left, stands with his public defender Zanda Myers, an attorney from Bowling Green, for his arraignment.

“This is going to be a long process,” Foust said. “(On) Jan. 22nd, we’ll be, honestly, checking to see how we’re doing with discovery and just trying to track things to make sure that everything’s moving. But it is going to be a slow process. I wish we could fast track it and do it as quickly as possible, but it’s going to take time.”

Riedel had no comment following today’s proceedings. 

Individuals charged with crimes are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. 

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.

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