Murder suspect’s mental competency questioned |

Murder suspect’s mental competency questioned

Cunny Antonio Pelaez, 20, awaits a recent court hearing in Wasatch County. Park Record file photo

After a telephone conference Monday, a Fourth District Court judge ordered mental health professionals to examine whether a 20-year-old Wasatch County man accused of slaying a popular Park City deacon is mentally competent to stand trial, court documents state.

The ruling delayed a nine-day jury trial for the suspect, Cunny Antonio Pelaez, previously scheduled to begin Nov. 7.

In 2005, prosecutors say Pelaez conspired with his father, 56-year-old Antonio Vasquez-Pelaez, to kill Heber resident Aniceto Armendariz Jr. as the religious leader drove eastbound on U.S. 40 near Mayflower.

A murder trial for Vasquez-Pelaez is scheduled to begin Jan. 16, 2007. The suspects remain incarcerated in Wasatch County.

Facing a weapons violation and a first-degree felony charge of aggravated murder, if convicted, Pelaez could spend the rest of his life in prison.

"The state will not seek the death penalty (against Pelaez)," Wasatch County Attorney Thomas Low has told The Park Record.

Low objected to the request for a competency hearing.

Pelaez’s insistence he is not guilty of the alleged crimes helped prompt the request for a mental evaluation, according to the defendant’s attorney, Scott Williams.

"But [Pelaez] isn’t assisting in his defense very well," said Williams in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Two therapists appointed by the state are expected to examine Pelaez’s mental competency, he said.

According to Williams, last summer he was named as Pelaez’s court-appointed counsel, after the defendant’s previous attorney, Bruce Savage, had health issues.

Charges against Pelaez became enhanced when the defendant admitted he knew Armendariz’s wife, Alma, was in the vehicle at the time of the alleged shooting, Low said.

Armendariz allegedly died near the scene of the shooting Sept. 25, 2005, after he lost control of the vehicle and rolled nearly seven times on the highway.

After the alleged slaying, Low claims the defendants, who are both illegal immigrants barred from carrying firearms, collided with Armendariz’s vehicle in their van.

After they fled the scene, the suspects were captured at the Lodge at Stillwater while trying to hide from police, authorities claimed.

Prosecutors say more than 100 witnesses have been interviewed in the case. McVey replaced Fourth District Court Judge Derek Pullan on the bench after Pullan was disqualified after he revealed relationships he has with members of Armendariz’s family.

Armendariz worked for Summit County’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church and Holy Cross Ministries in Heber.

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