Judge orders competency hearing for homicide suspect
JANESVILLE--The case against a town of Plymouth man accused of shooting his neighbor to death has been on hold since February as the man recovered from two suicide attempts.
Now, it could be delayed further as authorities wait for doctors to determine if he is competent to stand trial.
Rock County Judge James Daley ordered a competency evaluation for Daniel Bellard, 75, at Bellard's initial appearance on a charge of first-degree homicide Tuesday afternoon.
Bellard confessed to shooting and killing 59-year-old Christine Gestrich on Feb. 6 because he feared she would try to take some of his property, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.
Bellard shot himself twice in the head after he killed Gestrich, according to the complaint.
Those injuries kept Bellard in a Madison hospital for months after the shooting, until he was released Monday and taken into custody.
Deputies guarded Bellard around the clock for more than 150 days as he recovered, which cost the sheriff's office more than $78,000 in overtime as of June 30, according to an email from Jail Administrator Eric Chellevold to WISC-TV.
Bellard did not speak during his court appearance Tuesday.
He appeared by video from the Rock County Jail, sitting in a wheelchair next to his attorney, Robert Junig.
Junig told Daley that Bellard, “doesn't hear at all,” and requested the competency evaluation.
Daley granted the request and scheduled a status conference Wednesday, July 24, before a competency hearing Thursday, Aug. 8.
Daley also set Bellard's bond at $100,000 cash. He will be held at the jail's medical facility, authorities said.
The competency evaluation means the criminal case against Bellard is once again on hold.
“We have to have a determination from the doctors at Mendota (Mental Health Institute) to see whether or not he is competent to understand the proceedings, even to begin our case,” District Attorney David O'Leary said.
Bellard appeared to be breathing from an oxygen tube and did not seem to respond to the proceedings Tuesday.
He has large scars on his jaw and forehead, the result of his suicide attempts.
A handful of Gestrich's family members were in the courtroom gallery for the hearing. Some of them cried as Bellard appeared on the courtroom video monitors.
Property dispute may have led to shooting
A criminal complaint filed Tuesday shed more light on why authorities believe Bellard fatally shot Gestrich inside his barn on the morning of Feb. 6.
Although he could not speak, Bellard confessed to killing Gestrich when detectives interviewed him at UW Hospital in Madison by nodding his head or writing on a white board, according to the complaint.
Bellard told authorities he killed Gestrich because he thought she was going to “take our land,” according to the complaint.
Daniel and Eileen Bellard put their property at 6707 W. Stuart Road in rural Orfordville up for sale two days before the shooting, real estate agent Lori Hagemann-Davis told police.
Daniel Bellard was concerned Gestrich, who owned an adjacent property, would try to claim some of his land through adverse possession, authorities said.
The real estate agent told a detective she reassured Bellard that he should not be concerned about any adverse possession claim, according to the complaint.
Bellard shot Gestrich to death inside his barn the next morning when she arrived to pick up some antiques, authorities said, before turning the gun on himself.
The evaluation Daley ordered Tuesday will only cover whether Bellard is fit to stand trial now—not his mental condition in February, when authorities say he killed Gestrich, O'Leary said.
Bellard's mental state during the shooting could become an issue later in the case if he pleads not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, but that could happen only if he is deemed fit to stand trial, O'Leary said.
“If and when that question is answered, there mostly likely would be a second phase where competency at the time of the offense would be raised,” O'Leary said. “But in order to even get that far, we have to see: Is he competent to understand and assist in his defense?”