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Mental competency restoration ordered again for suspect in fatal freeway shooting

By Mark Shenefelt - | Sep 14, 2021

Photo supplied, Box Elder County Jail

Jonathan Mendoza Llana

BRIGHAM CITY — A judge signed an order Tuesday sending murder suspect Jonathan Mendoza Llana back to the Utah State Hospital for a second round of mental competency restoration.

It’s the second time since his arrest in May 2019 that the 47-year-old from Los Angeles has been found mentally incompetent to stand trial and sent to the state hospital to have his competency restored.

Charging documents said Llana shot at least six rounds from a high-powered rifle at a vehicle on Interstate 84 on May 22, 2019, killing the driver, Dennis Gwyther, 50, of Salt Lake City, and wounding the passenger.

Llana was arrested the next day in Idaho. He is charged with aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and six counts of unlawful discharge of a firearm, all first-degree felonies. The Box Elder County Attorney’s Office has served notice it plans to seek the death penalty.

In October 2019, Llana was found incompetent to assist in his defense and a judge ordered he be restored to competency by the Utah State Hospital. He was deemed competent in February 2020, triggering the case to move forward.

However, the defense in February this year said a private evaluation was underway, and they reported in court in June that the forensic psychiatrist determined Llana was not competent to proceed.

First District Judge Spencer Walsh then ordered that Llana receive two further psychiatric evaluations, because Llana’s matter is a potential capital punishment case.

In a document filed Monday, Llana’s attorneys said the two evaluators independently concluded that Llana is incompetent to stand trial but his competency potentially could be restored.

Prosecutors agreed with the findings, and Walsh directed Tuesday that the Utah Department of Health and Human Services restore Llana’s competency or determine whether it can be restored “in the foreseeable future.”

The judge asked that a report on progress be filed within 90 days.

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