JONESBORO — The attorney for Bill Vandergraph, a former Alto Pass pastor accused of sexually abusing a minor, has once again raised concerns about his client’s fitness for trial.
Monday In Union County court, Vandergraph attorney Allen James argued a motion for a new fitness hearing, reiterating claims that his client is unable to assist in his own defense.
Vandergraph, the 72-year-old former pastor of Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Alto Pass and former Union County school bus driver, was arrested in July 2010. He is alleged to have engaged in sexual misconduct with a 4-year-old child between January and April 2010.
Concerns about Vandergraph’s mental fitness, caused by depression and possible signs of dementia, have been an ongoing issue in court proceedings. Psychiatrist Naeem A. Qureshi testified Vandergraph was fit to stand trial in a fitness hearing in April 2011.
Judge Mark Boie said he received a supplemental report from Qureshi more than two weeks ago that deemed Vandergraph still fit for trial.
James said Qureshi had dismissed or misinterpreted information in coming to his findings and asked that he be able to have Vandergraph examined by the defense’s own expert. James said Vandergraph “couldn’t tell you what the charges (against him) were today if you asked.”
Union County State’s Attorney Tyler Edmonds said the issue at hand was not whether Vandergraph has dementia or physical issues, but whether he is fit for trial.
Edmonds said in Qureshi’s recent report, Vandergraph could articulate the charges against him, said he wished he hadn’t said things he did to investigators and also said he wished he had a lawyer present at the time.
In an earlier hearing Feb. 28, Edmonds said Vandergraph had confessed to the crime to police on video.
Boie said the two reports from Qureshi were strong and said the burden lay on the defendant to show there was a new issue to trigger a fitness hearing.
“I honestly think I need a little more from the defense to determine if there is a bonafide doubt,” Boie said.
However, Boie decided to wait for a decision on the fitness hearing motion until after an April 6 appointment with Vandergraph’s neurologist.
Vandergraph faces charges of predatory criminal sexual assault— a Class X felony, carrying a potential sentence of six to 60 years in prison— and two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, a Class 2 felony, each carrying potential sentences of 14 years. His trial is still set for mid-May.
On Twitter: @BrentStewartSI