A Middletown man charged with allegedly setting fire to his home in 2016 has been ruled competent to stand trial following a psychological evaluation.
Ross Compton, 60, was indicted in January for aggravated arson and insurance fraud for allegedly setting fire to his Court Donegal house. The blaze caused nearly $400,000 in damages. Compton was arrested after the fire based in part from data taken from his pacemaker.
Compton, who had been free on his own recognizance, failed to show up for a court hearing in March, just days before his trial in Butler County Common Pleas Court, and Judge Charles Pater issued a warrant for his arrest. In July, he was back in custody and again appeared before Pater, who set his bond at $100,000.
Last month defense attorney Charles Conliff requested the evaluation to determine Compton’s competency, meaning he understood the charges against him and was capable of assisting with his defense.
Tuesday, after reviewing the report, Pater declared Compton competent set a trail date for March 4. Conliff said his client has some medical procedures upcoming and requested the trial be set for 2019.
Compton’s attorney has also filed a not guilty by reason of insanity plea. On Tuesday, Conliff said he has not withdrawn that motion, which is an element to be argued at trial.
In the insanity motion, Conliff stated “defendant reportedly has a history of mental illness. Defendant reports that he has been diagnosed with depression, has previously been treated for that disorder, but has reportedly not been compliant with treatment for a period of over five months.”
The defense attorney also said in the motion that Compton has had “serious, long-term cardiovascular disease which reportedly resulted in reduced levels of oxygen to his brain for a lengthy period of time.”
The case is believed to be the first of its kind to use data from a beating heart as evidence. Last year, Pater ruled that evidence from Compton’s pacemaker could be presented at trial.
Middletown detectives said Compton gave statements that were “inconsistent” with evidence collected at the scene and from his medical device.
Compton, who has an artificial heart implant that uses an external pump, told police he was asleep when the fire started. When he awoke and saw the fire, he told police he packed some belongings in a suitcase and bags, broke out the glass of his bedroom window with a cane, and threw the bags and suitcase out the window before climbing out the window himself and taking the bags to his car.
Police then obtained a search warrant for all of the electronic data stored in Compton’s cardiac pacing device, according to court records.
The data taken from Compton’s pacemaker included his heart rate, pacer demand, and cardiac rhythms before, during and after the fire.
A cardiologist who reviewed that data determined “it is highly improbable Mr. Compton would have been able to collect, pack and remove the number of items from the house, exit his bedroom window and carry numerous large and heavy items to the front of his residence during the short period of time he has indicated due to his medical conditions,” according to court documents.
Compton’s former defense attorney, Glenn Rossi, argued the pacemaker evidence should be thrown out because the search was an invasion of Compton’s constitutional rights and unreasonable seizure of his private information.
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