University Place man, 93, won't be tried in slaying of caregiver

A 93-year-old man with dementia won’t stand trial in the shooting death of his University Place caregiver two years ago. Pierce County Superior Court Judge Thomas Felnagle on Monday dismissed the second-degree murder charge against Joe Conway Elder after ruling Elder is not mentally competent to understand the legal proceedings against him.

Elder shot Ramoncito Barro at Total Care AFH on Sept. 16, 2008, prosecutors allege. He apparently was under a delusion that Barro, who was delivering some fruit to his room, was working with undercover police and planning to harm him. Elder has suffered paranoid delusions for several years, according to previous testimony in the case.

Barro, 39, was the father of five.

Deputy prosecutor Stephen Penner and defense attorney Mary K. High recommended Monday the charge be dropped.

High told Felnagle her client’s mental health has deteriorated in the two years since his arrest and that mental-health experts were doubtful he’d regain enough of his faculties to help defend himself against the charge. Elder has Alzheimer’s disease and brain damage, High said.

“This is not the kind of thing that can be fixed,” she said.

Elder now will be committed to Western State Hospital under civil commitment laws, Penner said.

Superior Court Judge James Orlando found Elder competent to stand trial in December 2008 following a two-day hearing. Orlando acknowledged Elder’s dementia but said he thought the man could help in his defense.

The judge predicted then that Elder’s mental health could still be an issue.

“There is a likelihood that Mr. Elder may continue to decline and a possibility that competency may need to be examined again prior to trial,” Orlando said.

Elder’s mental health began to deteriorate this spring, and he was ordered to undergo further testing and treatment, court records show. It was then that the advanced stages of his dementia were discovered.