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Connecticut in legal quandary over man accused of murder

Curtis entering a classroom at Southern Connecticut State University   
December 26, 1997
Web posted at: 4:47 p.m. EST (2147 GMT)

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut (CNN) -- A man who was found mentally incompetent to stand trial for a 1987 murder was recently discovered to be earning good grades as a pre-med college student.

Connecticut authorities now want to try Kenneth Curtis for the killing of his estranged girlfriend, Donna Kalson, but that's proving to be legally challenging.

At issue is whether a court ruling deeming someone to be mentally incompetent to be tried for murder can keep the suspect from ever being tried if his mental condition changes.

CNN's Christine Negroni reports
icon 2 min. 15 sec. VXtreme video
Donna Kalson
Donna Kalson   

The problem surfaced this fall, when it came to the attention of Stratford police that Curtis was earning good grades as a student at Southern Connecticut State University.

Police say that on October 30, 1987, Curtis shot Kalson to death outside a Stratford restaurant. Moments later, police say, Curtis shot himself in the head.

Curtis, now 32, survived the shooting, but was left severely disabled.

"He was in a wheelchair, he was unable to communicate, he was hardly able to move," John Bailey, Connecticut Chief State's Attorney, told CNN.

Several competency hearings were held between 1988 and 1989, and Curtis was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial.

He was released from custody in June 1989, but ordered to appear before the state for annual examinations.

In 1990, a state appellate court ruled there was no law requiring Curtis to submit to the annual mental examinations. The court stopped the tests, and Connecticut stopped pursuing Curtis.

Good grades, renewed trouble

report card
Officials subpoenaed Curtis' transcripts which show grades of A's and B's   

But Curtis' condition improved.

In fact, it improved enough that he entered college and was earning A's and B's, and was reportedly working toward a career in psychiatry -- until Stratford police re-arrested him on murder charges on November 4.

Curtis' attorney has filed a motion in Superior Court in Bridgeport arguing the appellate court's decision should remain in effect and that Curtis should not be charged again with the same crime.

"The appellate court made a ruling in this case which we thing concluded this matter," said Curtis' defense attorney, Salvador DePiano.

But Kalson's parents say Curtis should not escape a trial by jury.

"He took someone's life. It happened to be my daughter, her life," said Kalson's mother, Barbara Kalson. "He took it and he should pay for it."

A hearing on DePiano's motion is scheduled for January 8, after which a judge is expected to a rule on the matter.

Meanwhile, Bailey says the issue has become more than a headache for state officials.

"This case has become a nightmare," he told CNN. "Here's a guy who killed a young lady... and what the people of Connecticut are saying is that he's getting away with murder."

Correspondent Christine Negroni contributed to this report.


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