Freeway murder suspect found mentally competent for trial

Friday , August 28, 2015 - 10:02 AM5 comments

By ANDREAS RIVERA
Standard-Examiner staff

OGDEN — A woman charged with stabbing her girlfriend to death on the freeway has been found competent to stand trial, although her attorney says the case could be delayed by months.

Victoria Mendoza, 22, is charged with the first-degree felony murder of Tawnee Baird, 21, on Oct. 18, 2014. She appeared in 2nd District Court Thursday, Aug. 27, hearing that psychologists have concluded she is mentally capable of standing trial.

Police said Mendoza admitted to killing Baird. Mendoza told police she and Baird were fighting while driving on Interstate 15 when she “lost it,” pulled out a knife and began stabbing her girlfriend, according to a probable cause statement.

An autopsy revealed Baird, who was driving, suffered about 40 stab wounds, prosecutors said.

Mendoza’s attorney, Michael Studebaker, has filed a motion to postpone the trial for six months, pending the outcome of a separate case. The Mendoza trial is set for Nov. 30-Dec. 9. 

In the separate case, Studebaker is challenging state law, pushing for more defense funds to be provided to defendants too poor to afford private attorneys.

“If you’re rich, you’re cool. If you’re poor, you’re screwed,” Studebaker told the Standard-Examiner Thursday. “Our public defenders do fine work, but they are overworked and underpaid.”

Studebaker told the court he will likely have to drop out of the Mendoza case if his client cannot receive the resources necessary to retain him. This would prompt the court to appoint a public defender to Mendoza’s case. The replacement attorney would not be familiar with the case and would need to reschedule the trial anyway to prepare, he said.

Weber County Attorney Chris Allred argued against the postponement motion, adding that Studebaker’s federal case on attorney fees has no merit. If a public defender must be appointed, it should be done as soon as possible, Allred said.

Casey Baird, father of Tawnee Baird, expressed his frustration Thursday with the slowness of the case. He said Studebaker needed to “man up” and accept that Mendoza doesn’t have the resources to retain him. He said he would accept a delay if a public defender was appointed.

Judge Joseph Bean set a review hearing for Sept. 17, after Studebaker’s federal case is argued, to determine what action to take on the case.

Contact reporter Andreas Rivera at 801-625-4227 or arivera@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @SE_Andreas.

 

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