A Tragic Update–Prosecution Ends With the Defendant’s Suicide

A few months ago, I wrote about the indictment of Alfred Villalobos and Federico Buenrostro. Mr. Villalobos had allegedly been part of a massive pay-for-play investment fraud involving CalPERS. Mr. Buenrostro (the former CEO of CalPERS) pleaded guilty in July 2014.

Mr. Villalobos’ trial was scheduled to start on February 23, 2015.  On January 13, 2015, Mr. Villalobos was found dead of an apparent suicide.

On January 12, 2015, Mr. Villalobos’ counsel filed a status conference statement, indicating the serious toll the prosecution was taking on their client:

Over the past five months, Mr. Villalobos’ health has continued to decline resulting in numerous stays in the emergency room. Counsel for Mr. Villalobos had no contact with Mr. Villalobos from approximately November 14, 2014 until Wednesday, January 7, 2015.

In the phone call, Mr. Villalobos was incoherent, had difficulty communicating and following a conversation. He did relate that he had just recently been released from the emergency room.

Mr. Villalobos has not been in a condition to help counsel prepare for trial or prepare for the status conference. It is Counsel’s opinion that Mr. Villalobos is not physically or mentally able to participate in his defense, or to even sit through a trial.

Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241, Counsel for Mr. Villalobos is declaring a doubt as to his ability to help prepare a defense and to sit through a trial.

He apparently committed suicide on January 13, 2015–just one day after his lawyers tried to delay the trial to deal with his worsening condition.

According to Law360

Reno Police Department Public Information Officer Tim Broadway said medics on Tuesday afternoon found Villalobos, 71, at an indoor shooting range with an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. A 9mm semiautomatic handgun was found near his body, according to the public information officer.

Being indicted can take a serious toll on your health. Mr. Villalobos is not the first defendant to commit suicide in the face of serious charges or government investigation.

My deepest sympathies to Mr. Villalobos’ family and friends. This is a tragic outcome to what appears to be a terrible situation.

So you know, 18 U.S.C. § 4241 states:

(a) Motion To Determine Competency of Defendant.— At any time after the commencement of a prosecution for an offense and prior to the sentencing of the defendant, or at any time after the commencement of probation or supervised release and prior to the completion of the sentence, the defendant or the attorney for the Government may file a motion for a hearing to determine the mental competency of the defendant. The court shall grant the motion, or shall order such a hearing on its own motion, if there is reasonable cause to believe that the defendant may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense.

There has been some interesting commentary about how to handle the situation when a client appears suicidal. It is worth reading. We all hope never to be in this situation but, if we are, we need to know how to handle it.

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