BRUNSWICK, Ga. — A Georgia man charged with molesting a 6-year-old boy before choking him to death in 2007 should be committed to a state mental hospital, prosecutors and defense attorneys told a judge Thursday after experts testified the suspect would probably never be fit to stand trial.
George Edenfield, 37, could spend the rest of his life in inpatient treatment at a state hospital if Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett gives the order to commit him. The judge asked attorneys Thursday to draft an order for him to sign next week. Once committed, Edenfield would have his case reviewed each year but could only be released by a court.
Lawyers on both sides agreed with two psychologists that six years of treatment has failed to make Edenfield competent to stand trial for murder, child molestation and other crimes in the March 2007 slaying of Christopher Michael Barrios, a Brunswick kindergartener. Prosecutors who once intended to seek the death penalty conceded it’s now unlikely that he will ever face a jury.
“The state has pushed its case as far as we can. We obviously wanted to go to trial,” District Attorney Jackie Johnson said after the hearing. “Based on six years of evaluations, we have no reason to believe his status is going to change.”
Christopher went missing March 8, 2007, from the Brunswick mobile home park where he lived. His body was found a week later by a roadside, wrapped in trash bags.
Prosecutors say George Edenfield, a neighbor, lured the boy into the mobile home he shared with his parents. The suspect’s father later, David Edenfield, confessed in a videotaped police interview that he and his son took turns molesting Christopher while his wife, Peggy, watched. He said the boy pleaded with them to stop and threatened to tell his father and grandmother, prompting George Edenfield to begin choking the boy.
David Edenfield told police he placed his own hands on top of his son’s as Christopher choked to death. A jury convicted David Edenfield and sentenced him to death in 2009. Peggy Edenfield pleaded guilty to charges in the case and is serving a 60-year prison sentence.
The joint request to have George Edenfield committed to a mental hospital infuriated the slain boy’s grandmother, Sue Rodriguez. She stormed out of the courtroom Thursday in the middle of the hearing.
“Where’s the justice? Where is it?” Rodriguez said outside the courthouse. “Play like you’re crazy, baby, and you’ll go to a mental institution.”
But experts who evaluated George Edenfield in person and reviewed his history said he’s mentally incapable of understanding the seriousness of the charges he faces or even what roles the judge, attorneys and jury would play at his trial.
Psychologist Karen Bailey-Smith said Edenfield suffered an abusive childhood and tests have consistently shown he’s impaired by mild to moderate mental retardation. In conversation, she said, he was often childlike and was prone to give different answers to the same questions if she changed her expression or tone of voice. Bailey-Smith said she asked Edenfield if he understood the death penalty.
“He said, ‘Well, I could get an injection and they’ll put me to sleep,”’ Bailey-Smith said, adding that she asked Edenfield how long he would sleep and he replied: “For a long, long time. Maybe the rest of my life.”
Psychologist Greg Cox performed Edenfield’s latest mental evaluation, interviewing him at the Glynn County jail earlier this month. He testified that he slipped in a test used to detect people who are faking mental incompetence and concluded Edenfield wasn’t pretending.
Cox said Edenfield told him he looked forward to going to trial so he could return to the mental hospital. He said Edenfield told him: “I won the egg-decorating contest and won a coloring book. I can color better than I can draw.”
Both psychologists testified they concluded Edenfield lacked the ability to make crucial decisions to help his attorney at a trial, such as whether to testify in his own defense.
“Would it be fair to say it is high unlikely this is going to get any better?” Gerald Word, Edenfield’s defense attorney, asked Cox.
The psychologist said he agreed.