A homeless man who previously lived in Tucson and Yuma has been ordered into the state’s psychiatric hospital at a cost of more than $22,000 a month in hopes of restoring him to competency long enough to stand trial on charges that he failed to register as a sex offender when he moved into Cochise County last year.
Riley Eric French, 47, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of not informing the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office of his presence in the county in September 2018. He is also charged with two counts of shoplifting during which he allegedly stole beer and a pair of jeans.
The Cochise County Attorney’s Office contends a 1991 conviction for sexual abuse requires French to register as a sex offender in whatever county he lives. French claims he isn’t obligated to register because the requirement – enacted with the 1996 passage of Megan’s Law – was not part of his sentencing order.
Judge Timothy Dickerson stayed the case July 22 after he determined French suffers from a mental illness which prevents the defendant from assisting in his defense. The ruling came after David Wilkison, a Tucson-based defense attorney, expressed concerns about his client’s competency.
Dickerson then ordered French into an inpatient program at the Arizona State Hospital (ASH) in Phoenix in hopes of restoring him to competency for purposes of standing trial. French cannot refuse treatment, the judge said, but ASH personnel cannot forcibly medicate without a separate court order.
French’s restoration treatment costs the court $749 per day and generally takes a minimum of two months. Patients can be ordered to remain at the psychiatric facility up to 15 months at the discretion of the judge.
During last month’s hearing, Wilkison asked Dickerson whether it would be more prudent to dismiss the criminal charges and then appoint a guardian to help French secure long-term mental health treatment. Otherwise, the attorney noted, French won’t receive needed care after he leaves ASH, especially if he’s incarcerated.
“I don’t know if we want to spend $45,000 or more restoring him for these types of charges,” Wilkison said. “Otherwise we’re just looking at a continuing cycle that doesn’t benefit Mr. French or the community.”
Dickerson denied the motion to dismiss and moved forward with the restoration plan backed by prosecutor Lori Zucco. The parties will return to the Cochise County Superior Court on Nov. 25 to review progress reports from ASH.
Aside from his sexual abuse conviction, French has been found guilty of several other crimes since 1997, including aggravated assault, armed robbery, DUI, and forgery. His most recent felony conviction involved a marijuana violation for which he was released from prison in March 2017.