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Doctors reach conflicting conclusions about whether man accused of igniting Holy fire is fit to stand trial

A pair of mental evaluations of the man accused of igniting the massive Holy fire reached competing conclusions about whether he is competent to stand trial – prompting a judge on Wednesday to assign a third doctor to serve as a tiebreaker.

Forrest Clark, 51, appeared subdued during his brief appearance in a Santa Ana courtroom, much different than a pair of earlier arraignments when he continually interrupted judges with loud, rambling outbursts.

Clark has been charged with six felony counts, including arson and making criminal threats, in connection to the Holy fire that ignited on Aug. 6 in rustic Holy Jim in the Cleveland National Forest before burning more than 23,000 acres of wild land in Orange and Riverside counties.

The criminal case against Clark has been placed on hold until a judge decides whether Clark is capable of understanding the charges he faces and assisting with his own defense. In the meantime, he is being held without bail.

Two doctors have evaluated Clark. One submitted a report to the court on Sept. 18, the other on Oct. 4. Both reports have been sealed and the attorneys barred from discussing their exact findings.

On Wednesday, Clark’s attorney, Nicole Parness, told Orange County Superior Court Judge Mike Murray that the reports reached “competing conclusions,” and that a third report was needed to serve as a “tie breaker.” The judge agreed to assign a third doctor and set a Nov. 28 hearing to discuss the results of that report.

If he is found incompetent, he would be put in a state hospital for treatment until he is competent to stand trial.

Clark, who owns a cabin in Holy Jim, has been described by neighbors as erratic. The chief of the volunteer fire department in the canyon has shown reporters a text Clark is accused of sending a week before the Holy fire saying, “It’s all gonna burn.”

The fire was still going when charges were initially filed against Clark in August. With the fire’s damage now being tabulated, Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Kirk said his office hasn’t ruled out the possibility of filing additional charges.

“We are leaving the option open,” Kirk said. “The destruction was huge on this.”

Source: Orange County Register

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