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Mental exam ordered for home trashing suspect

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- A woman accused of damaging three city homes, leaving dead animals at one, must undergo a mental exam to see if she can stand trial.

Renee L. McFarland, 38, listed as having a Clarksburg, W.Va., address, appeared in Winchester Circuit Court on Friday with her appointed attorney, William A. "Beau" Bassler. McFarland, free on bond, is charged with three felony counts of destruction of property and four misdemeanor counts of failure to bury or cremate dead animals.

Judge John E. Wetsel Jr. granted Bassler's motion to have McFarland undergo a psychological evaluation to determine her competency to stand trial on the charges and her mental status at the time of the alleged offenses. Wetsel ordered her to be tested by David Rawls, a forensic psychologist with Western State Hospital.

Authorities accuse McFarland of causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage to homes at 221 Boyd Ave., 337 Shawnee Ave., and 333 Shenandoah Ave. while she lived at those residences beginning in 2007 through summer 2010. Police also charged McFarland with leaving the corpses of three cats and a rabbit in a garage at the Boyd Avenue property.

Wetsel ordered McFarland to return Nov. 4 to discuss the doctor's findings and determine the next step. If she is found unable to stand trial, the court can order her to undergo treatment to restore her competency. The defendant may plead not guilty by reason of insanity if the doctor finds her not sane at the time of the alleged offense.

The court set a trial date in the case earlier this summer, but canceled the proceeding when her retained attorney, Paul H. Thomson, no longer could practice law as a result of pleading guilty to felony charges in federal court. McFarland appeared Aug. 2 and asked the court to appoint counsel because she could no longer afford an attorney. Bassler offered to represent McFarland.

Commonwealth's Attorney Alex Iden at that time objected to McFarland's request to have the court appoint an attorney because she had retained counsel up to that point. The judge appointed Bassler as her attorney. Iden noted Friday that taxpayers are covering the cost of Bassler's services.

"It's a peculiar set of circumstances," Iden said.

Outside the courtroom Friday, two of the property owners complained about the delay in the case.

Police and city building officials investigated the Boyd Avenue home in late summer 2010 after owner Julie Hayes gained access through the courts. Hayes could not by law evict McFarland from the property even though the tenant had stopped paying rent prior to leaving. Hayes entered the home to find trash and animal feces strewn around. She feared the city would condemn the property, and for a time it remained uninhabitable.

After extensive repairs, the house still smells like cat waste, she said.

More than a year has passed since police charged McFarland with leaving the dead animals behind. McFarland, who has waived her right to a speedy trial, had the case delayed more than half a dozen times at her attorneys' request. She failed to show for one scheduled court hearing because she had traveled to West Virginia.

Hayes claimed the defendant received special treatment from the court because, at the time of the alleged offenses and until recently, her father, Danny McFarland, worked as a deputy with the Winchester Sheriff's Office and, before that, as a city police officer.

"It's very, very frustrating," Hayes said.

Joanna McCall agreed. McCall won a judgment against McFarland for damages done to her property. The damage left barely the shell of the house, according to McCall.

McFarland has yet to pay McCall for any damages.

"You can't sue someone you can't find," McCall said.

But after authorities charged McFarland related to Hayes' property, the commonwealth sought indictments against the defendant accusing her of damaging the other two homes.

"I wasn't expecting to pay for her attorney," McCall said.

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