A curious conspiracy 

US District Judge Donald Molloy faced a question typically reserved for science fiction during the Jan. 7 competency hearing of Andrew Scott Benningfield, a Whitefish man facing charges for illegal possession of firearms and a bomb in Aug. 2007.

Benningfield considers himself the victim of a far-reaching government conspiracy. Specifically, he believes operatives implanted nutrition-stealing canisters in his gastro-intestinal tract while detained by Seattle authorities in 1993 and 2000. However, despite operating under those presumed delusions, federal psychologists and prosecutors say Benningfield’s ability to rationally identify and react to his surroundings—canisters or not— prove he’s competent to stand trial.

Benningfield agrees, but his attorney, Morgan Modine, with whom the defendant admits an adversarial relationship, does not. Missoula forensic psychologist William Stratford, who testified for the defense, also lines up against Benningfield’s ability to stand trial.

“Everyone agrees he’s psychotic—the issue is competence,” Stratford said at the hearing. “He’s very much over the edge. It’s one big river of pathology.”

Stratford pointed to Benningfield’s refusal to authorize surgery to fix a hip fracture he suffered during a June 8 scuffle with an inmate in Great Falls as evidence of his irrationality. An Aug. 28 letter from a nurse at the Cascade County Detention Center reports that the break is not healing on its own and could develop into a permanent injury if not surgically pinned.

Benningfield refutes the prognosis, claiming medical staff at the jail refuse to show him the X-rays detailing the extent of the injury. “I’m not going to trust doctors who won’t show me anything,” he said in the courtroom. “I don’t care what people say.”

Federal forensic psychologist AnnElizabeth Card concurs with Stratford’s diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, but came to a different conclusion regarding competency. After a fairly comprehensive exchange with Benningfield during the hearing, Molloy agreed, siding with the prosecution. Benningfield is scheduled to stand trial Feb. 23.
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