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Mental Competency Exam Ordered for Murder-for-Hire Convict

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By DAVE COLLINS, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A state judge ordered a mental competency exam Monday for a man serving a 200-year prison sentence in a 2003 triple homicide, despite his objections but after his public defender questioned his efforts to drop his appeal.

Public defender Lauren Weisfeld declined to say what exactly led her to be concerned about Benedetto Cipriani’s mental state.

“I have a good-faith basis to question whether he has emotional issues that interfere with his judgment,” Weisfeld told Superior Court Judge Julia Dewey. “I feel this issue is intertwined with his competence.”

Cipriani, 55, told the judge he was well aware of the potential consequences of waiving his appeal rights in state court and he asked why he was being subjected to a competency exam. He has an appeal of his convictions pending before the state Supreme Court, but has not said why he wants to withdraw it.

“I’m not a mental case,” Cipriani said. “I’m asking for something that is protected by the law. How many times I have to say, ‘Please withdraw the appeal?”’

Cipriani, an Italian citizen who had lived in Meriden, was convicted by a jury of conspiracy and accessory to murder in December 2008 for the execution-style killings of auto shop owners Robert Stears and Barry Rossi and mechanic Lorne Stevens. The three were slain at B&B Automotive in Windsor Locks in July 2003.

Prosecutors say Cipriani paid three men $5,000 to kill Stears because Cipriani had an affair with Stears’ wife and she refused to leave her husband. Authorities said the gunman also shot Rossi and Stevens to death to eliminate witnesses.

Cipriani’s competency was never an issue during his trial.

Monday, the judge said that because Cipriani has also notified the state Supreme Court that he now wants to represent himself, there must be a determination of whether he is competent to do that and whether he is competent to oversee his appeals. She said she also had to trust the public defender’s concerns about Cipriani.

But Cipriani said there is a conflict with Weisfeld representing him because he has a pending motion to have her replaced and has filed a complaint with the bar association. Cipriani said he and Weisfeld have different views about his case.

In ordering the evaluation, Dewey said it can be done within 30 days and another court hearing could be held within 10 days after a report is issued.

In December 2009, a federal judge dismissed a petition by Cipriani seeking permission to serve his prison time in Italy, saying he hadn’t exhausted the state appeals process.

Anne Rossi, Barry Rossi’s widow, said she’s glad Cipriani now wants to drop his latest appeal, but she believes he has a hidden motive for doing so.

The three men convicted of the killings are each serving decades-long prison sentences.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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