A judge Wednesday ordered a Portland man accused of three separate homicides this year be committed to the state hospital for treatment after finding he is unable to assist in his own defense.
Joseph Kelly Banks was living in a Northeast Portland group home for adults with mental illness at the time police say he fatally shot three men in the city in what investigators suspect were random attacks.
Under state law, the hospital may keep patients who are under a so-called “aid and assist order” for the period of time equal to the maximum sentence the court could impose if the defendant had been convicted.
Circuit Judge Katharine von Ter Stegge made her ruling after reviewing a report from psychologist Tasha Phillips, who Banks’ defense lawyers asked to evaluate their client.
Prosecutors supported the finding.
Defense lawyer Gregory Scholl submitted Phillips’ report to the judge and shared his belief that Banks is not capable of proceeding at this point.
“I base this belief on my interaction with Mr. Banks, as well as the interactions others on our team have had with him, and information revealed through investigation and review of discovery materials,” Scholl wrote to the judge.
The judge shared the psychologist’s general finding with Banks, who appeared in court briefly Wednesday afternoon.
“She thinks based on your medical history, or conversations with you, that you are at the moment, not in the best place to assist your lawyers in your defense. Do you understand that? And do you agree with that?”
Banks, seated next to his two defense lawyers, responded, “I don’t know,” but then later nodded that he understood.
The judge told him when he is determined to be able to help his defense lawyers, the case will proceed.
This isn’t the first time Banks, 49, has been committed for psychiatric care.
Banks spent at least a decade committed to psychiatric care in federal custody after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2007 for illegally having a gun as a felon, his second conviction for the crime.
Banks had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and antisocial personality disorder, and a forensic mental health evaluation in 2007 concluded he would likely be dangerous to others because of his mental illness. The evaluation recommended he be committed for inpatient treatment.
Banks spent much of his commitment at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, records show. A former prosecutor wrote in a report eight years ago that Banks’ history demonstrated “how quickly he decompensates” with potentially threatening behavior when he is off his medication.
In February 2021, U.S. Senior District Judge Anna J. Brown in Portland ordered Banks’ conditional release to a federal halfway house, the Northwest Regional Reentry Center, for up to four months. Brown’s order was based on an annual update by a treatment team that found Banks’ mental condition had improved so he could be stabilized on a “regimen of psychotropic medication,” court records show.
He was last living at a residential group home run by Cameron Care Inc. in the 3600 block of Northeast Garfield Avenue, according to the home’s director and court records. Cameron Care provides a transitional residential care and treatment for adults with mental illness.
Earlier this year, Banks pleaded not guilty to a 15-count indictment charging him with three homicides that each occurred on the first day or two of the first three months of the year:
— Isaiah Hurst, 39, was found dead from a gunshot wound about 9 a.m. Jan. 2 in the driver’s seat of a brown sedan that had crashed into a tree along the 100 block of North Morgan Street.
– Jeff Ramirez, 35, was in his pickup truck when a bullet pierced the cab and struck him in the torso on Feb. 2. He died behind the wheel of his Honda Ridgeline along Southeast Stark Street near 119th Avenue just before 4 p.m.
– Mark Johnson, 55, was fatally shot on the southern edge of Dawson Park next to his black SUV on North Stanton Street just after noon on March 1.
Banks also is accused in a nonfatal shooting in February near the Ramirez homicide scene and two separate, nonfatal shootings a day before the killing near Dawson Park.
Police said they believe Banks didn’t know any of the people. Court records don’t indicate what led to the shootings.
Hurst’s mother and aunt watched the hearing via a video feed. Afterwards, Hurst’s aunt Traciee Thomas said in a message to The Oregonian/OregonLive, “We’re LIVID!!” Isaiah Hurst was fatally shot on his way home a little after 9 a.m. from picking up breakfast at McDonald’s Restaurant. A written obituary for the 39-year-old man said, “The family is still trying to adjust to the shock of their loved one’s death, the family’s grief has been confusing and difficult to bear.”
Thomas said she believes that Banks should never have been allowed out of a hospital, unsupervised, and is dismayed that his commitment now will delay him having to face “the carnage” he’s accused of leaving behind and his prosecution.
In early January, just 10 days after Hurst’s killing, Banks had filed a motion in Multnomah County Circuit Court urging a judge to set aside his 2006 conviction for being a felon in possession of a gun, records show. No action was taken on the motion.
— Maxine Bernstein
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