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Competency Decision on Former Bell County Coroner Standing Trial Still On Hold

From WRIL with further content from the State Journal -

As we have reported for some time, former Bell County Coroner and funeral home director Donald Clyde Creech, charged with 38 counts of violating the Kentucky trust provision of pre-need payment for funeral goods and a count of theft , was scheduled to go to trial in September of 2022.

A Franklin County Circuit Judge ordered Creech to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine if he is competent to stand trial.

The State-Journal reported on February 6, 2023, that the psychologist who conducted Creech’s evaluation said that the defendant was not competent to stand trial, but the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center, who is monitoring Creech and conducted initial assessments of his mental acuity, ruled that he was competent to stand trial at the time of his arraignment last year.

Judge Phillip Shepherd is quoted by the paper as saying: "I am concerned that we haven’t yet had a follow-up conference to fully go over the results of Mr. Creech’s evaluation, and my concern is that the psychologist who conducted this evaluation is not legally qualified to render a decision here." The Judge went on to say: "“The psychologist’s report said he was basing this decision on a letter from his [Creech’s] family physician, and that there were problems with dementia, potentially Alzheimer’s, But with concern to his answers to the pertinent questions about his ability to participate in these proceedings, and with regards to the roles of the judge, defense counsel, prosecution, and so on, he answered all of those questions correctly. So I have a little bit of a dilemma here about what to do.”

The Journal further reported that Assistant Kentucky Attorney General Barbara Whaley appeared for the prosecution, telling the court, “It is the defendant’s burden to prove that he is unable to stand trial,” and that due to the fact that there has been no concrete diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s from a physician, there is no grounds for Creech to not stand trial.

Whaley added: “There’s been no diagnosis from a neurologist. But even if there was a definitive diagnosis of dementia of some sort, he is still competent to stand trial because of the responses he gave in interviews. In particular, one response when the doctor asked him about the charges, and he responded ‘embezzlement.' And when the doctor came back with ‘pre-paid funeral monies being stolen,' Creech responded ‘That’s not all true.' The Commonwealth’s position is that he is competent.”

Creech's Attorney Abell fought back at Whaley’s statement, saying, “As it relates to the burden on our part and the preponderance of evidence, I think a psychologist is clearly qualified to render opinions, and the KRS states that the court can appoint a psychiatrist or psychologist. Psychologists testify all the time.”

Shepherd responded to Abell by pointing out, “At no time has Mr. Creech been declared incompetent, or had a guardian appointed. Any of the things that you would expect when someone is diagnosed with dementia.”

Abell then detailed the “unique” status of dementia cases with regards to mental deficiency rulings in court. “Just because a person might be able to answer a question correctly, that doesn’t mean that the person is ‘with it.’”

“Just because someone has dementia, that doesn’t mean they can’t go through a legal proceeding and understand what is going on. And that is what we use to determine competency,” Shepherd explained.

Whaley then asked the court to request another in-person evaluation at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center where “a thorough, 30-day, 24-7 observation can take place with medical doctors on staff.”

The Commonwealth offered the court pretrial diversion if restitution could be made, and did detail that one of Creech’s alleged victims has received several thousand dollars in restitution. Whaley also mentioned that successive funeral directors who took over victims’ cases in the wake of the allegations have honored about half of the pre-paid funeral expenses to the tune of over $100,000.

Shepherd determined that he needed more time to evaluate the documentation regarding Creech’s psychological evaluations, and that decisions on Creech’s competency could potentially come after completion of that evaluation. No date has been set by the court.

Clyde Creech is accused of taking funds from individuals that were to be placed in trust and then sent to the trust manager at the Funeral Directors Association of Kentucky in Franklin County. The monies range from $3,750 to as much as $9,000 for a total of $248,925, which is alleged to have been taken from 1996 to roughly January of 2014.

There is also one count of theft by failure to make required disposition of property over $500 in regard to $5515 obtained from an individual for a legal obligation in which Creech falsely dealt with the property as his own and failed to make the required payment even though two other parties had purchased the funeral home.

Creech held the office of Bell County Coroner from 1981 to 2011.

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