Marietta murder trial delayed

The Marietta man accused of beating a man to death in a Groves Avenue trailer in April has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, postponing his trial which was set to begin today in Washington County Common Pleas Court.

Ira D. Blair, 29, of 139 Groves Ave., will now be evaluated by a psychologist with the Forensic Diagnostic Center of District 9 and another psychologist if the defense chooses, according to Washington County Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Rings.

“He will have to be evaluated by a physician and found to suffer from a mental disease, defect or condition,” said Rings.

No further explanation for the insanity plea was given on the official change of plea entry and Blair’s attorney, Rolf Baumgartel, did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

Blair was indicted for murder following the April 2 discovery of the body of 69-year old Frank B. Stephens, in the trailer where Blair had been living at the time.

That same morning, a bloodied Blair was found asleep in a Third Street residence, resulting in a breaking and entering charge that was eventually merged with the murder charge.

Blair was indicted after forensic evaluations were completed, reportedly matching his DNA to blood found on Stephens.

The plea resulted in yet another continuance for the trial, which was previously scheduled to take place Sept. 9 and then Oct. 23.

Both previous continuances were made at Baumgartel’s request because additional time was needed to negotiate and prepare the case, according to the continuance motions filed in Washington County Common Pleas Court.

If Blair is declared insane, a trial would proceed and it would be left to a jury to decide if Blair met the criteria for an insanity plea. The scenario would require Rings to consider a change in prosecution strategy. However, Rings said he has seen no evidence that would support a claim of insanity.

There was evidence that Blair had received a blow to the head around the same time as the murder, he said.

“When he went to the hospital the next day, there was evidence he’d been whacked in the head,” said Rings.

More than 100 jurors had been called for the case, according to Washington County Common Pleas Court Bailiff Don Wilson.

Of those, 65 would have reported for a morning panel and 45 would have reported for an evening panel. No other trial is scheduled in place of the Blair trial today so all the jurors will be dismissed, said Wilson.

No deadline has been set for Blair’s evaluation but a status hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 24. Blair’s right to a speedy trail is waived during the process.

He has been incarcerated in the Washington County Jail since his April 2 arrest.