Jailers place Justin Helzer on suicide watch

Defense team granted one-day continuance in multiple murder trial

Tri-Valley Herald/June 30, 2004
By Simon Read

Martinez -- Justin Helzer's defense team on Tuesday was granted a one-day continuance because the defendant was placed on suicide watch in county jail the previous night.

"(Helzer) was repeatedly interrogated and taken to a room with his feet shackled," defense attorney Dan Cook told Judge Mary Ann O'Malley. "He was put in a padded cell and shackled to the floor. It was cold, uncomfortable and he was unable to sleep."

Cook said his client was extremely upset and not in a state of mind conducive to following the trial.

"I have not had the opportunity to investigate what's happened," Cook told the court. "It's left (Helzer) in a position where I doubt he'd remain alert during the trial ... We want to delay the trial at least a day."

Cook said he was made aware of the previous night's activities when he arrived at his office Tuesday morning and found a message from Helzer's mother on his answering machine.

"She called and left the message at 1 a.m.," he said.

O'Malley, citing a report jail officials provided the court, said Helzer was deemed a suicide risk.

"Apparently, there is information Justin has been hording medication that is not his own," O'Malley said. "When questioned by medical personnel, the question was asked if he was suicidal. He refused to answer."

O'Malley said that in such a situation, protocol requires jail personnel to put the inmates in restraints so they can't hurt themselves or others. Helzer was put in a padded cell where he was checked on every 15 minutes.

"I'm a little concerned because he would not answer the question," O'Malley said. "If he does not answer the question, this is going to last beyond today."

Cook said he wanted time to investigate the matter.

"It might be very well that he is suicidal," Cook said. "How can I tell at this point?"

Deputy District Attorney Hal Jewett said he knew little of what had transpired at the jail, but said he thought Helzer appeared ready for proceedings.

"(Helzer) is sitting here in suit and tie and looking not all that dissimilar to how he has throughout the trial to date," Jewett said.

O'Malley continued proceedings in the sanity phase of Helzer's trial until 9 a.m. today.

"Mr. Helzer, try and get some rest," she said.

Outside the courtroom, a visibly angry Cook would not say what -- if any impact -- this would have on the trial.

"I can't really say anything until I look into it," he said.

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