A man accused of molesting 12 Carroll County children -- two of them his own -- will be examined by a psychologist to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.
The order by Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. came in response to a surprise request from the defendant yesterday during what was to have been a pretrial hearing.
"We want to determine whether he understands what's going on around him in these proceedings," said Colleen S. Clemente, the Westminster defense attorney who represents the man.
The man faces multiple counts of second- , third- and fourth-degree sexual offense, battery, perverted practice and child abuse. If convicted on all counts, he could receive prison terms totaling more than 500 years.
Yesterday's hearing was scheduled to focus on statements the man gave to child abuse investigators when he was arrested last summer.
In those statements, the man confessed to abusing some of the children over a period of several years, court documents say.
But before the hearing began, Ms. Clemente and prosecutors approached the bench and engaged in a 10-minute discussion with Judge Burns. At the end of the discussion, Ms. Clemente made the request for the psychological evaluation.
"You've said you understand what's going on when I've asked, haven't you?" Ms. Clemente asked the man.
"Yes," he said.
"But you really don't understand at all, do you?"
"No, I don't," the man said.
Judge Burns ordered a state psychologist to perform the evaluation. The order postpones the trial, which had been scheduled to begin Dec. 6.
If the psychologist finds the defendant incompetent to stand trial, the man would be committed to a psychiatric hospital. If he's found competent, Ms. Clemente and prosecutors would continue preparations for the trial.
The man's name and address are being withheld to protect the identity of his children.
Investigators learned of the alleged abuse after one of the children, a 9-year-old girl, told her mother the man forced her to fondle him and consent to oral sex.
When investigators interviewed that girl, other names were mentioned, including those of the man's two children.
The man has been held in the Carroll County Detention Center on $160,000 full bond since August.