Court: Man unable to assist in defense

SANDPOINT — A 19-year-old Cocolalla man accused of shooting a romantic rival to death last year has been deemed too mentally ill to assist in his own defense.

As a result, the first-degree murder case against Austin Blake Thrasher is suspended for the time being, court records show.

Thrasher is accused of luring Michael Wyatt Smith into the woods near Thrasher’s home and shooting him in the head and torso with a .357 pistol. The killing allegedly occurred last fall, but went undetected until earlier this year.

Christopher Robin Garlin and Thrasher’s wife, Jennifer, were charged with accessories to murder because they had knowledge of the slaying, but didn’t immediately report it to authorities.

Garlin, according to court documents, disclosed knowledge of the killing after the trio was arrested in connection with a Ponderay pawn shop burglary in January. Jennifer Thrasher led investigators to Smith’s makeshift grave in the Rapid Lightning drainage.

Smith, also 19, was allegedly killed because he was seeing a 16-year-old Clark Fork girl with whom Austin Thrasher had a romantic relationship.

Austin Thrasher’s defense counsel, Chief Public Defender Isabella Robertson, raised concerns about her client’s fitness to proceed in April, shortly after he was ordered to stand trial in 1st District Court.

Robertson renewed those concerns last summer, moving for Austin Thrasher to be evaluated because his symptoms of delusion had advanced to a point where he appeared unable to assist in his own defense.

The results of Dr. Carl Haugen’s evaluation were filed under seal last month, although Judge Steve Verby signed an order on Sept. 19 finding that there was good cause to doubt Austin Thrasher’s fitness to proceed.

Verby ordered Austin Thrasher be committed to the custody of the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare for up to 90 days. He could face further commitment or be returned to Bonner County to face trial if he’s found fit to proceed.

Jennifer Thrasher and Garlin, both 18, remain jailed while awaiting trial in federal court on the pawn shop burglary charges and the accessory charges in state court.

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