Man charged with deadly beating 'suffered' in jail

BOULDER - One of the teenagers charged with beating to death a developmentally disabled man has been found "incompetent" based on the first, but limited, evaluation.

Court documents filed ahead of his court appearance Wednesday say a court appointed expert determined 18-year-old Luke Pelham was "incompetent," but the expert was suspect of those findings, suggesting Pelham "could be feigning or malingering."

Pelham and his friend Austin Holford, 18, have been charged in the death of Aaron Tuneberg, 30. According to their arrest affidavits, Holford repeatedly beat Tuneberg with an aluminum bat.

Based on the police report, Tuneberg may have known at least one of his attackers. Pelham was the one who called 911. He told police he went to Tuneberg's apartment March 31 to get a friend's guitar. However, his real reason for visiting the victim, police say, was to check if the 30-year-old was alone.

Court records show Holford was right behind Pelham with a bat. Holford told Boulder police he wanted to teach Tuneberg "a lesson," because Tuneberg allegedly assaulted a friend of his.

Court records say the two teens left Tuneberg's place and disposed of the bat and a golf club used in the assault. They later returned to Tuneberg's apartment to check if he was still breathing - he was. Court records say they then took his bike, Xbox and an iPod speaker.

Experts tell 9NEWS competency evaluations are fairly standard in cases like this.

Holford and Pelham are scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday morning, a hearing where they'll plead guilty or not guilty to the charges against them.

During that hearing, Boulder prosecutors will also ask the court to order a second evaluation on Pelham and increase his bond. Pelham is currently out on bond.

In the documents requesting a second evaluation filed with the court, the first expert who examined Pelham said "a comprehensive evaluation would afford the court important information in the determination of whether Mr. Pelham has a mental or developmental disability that prevents him from demonstrating adjudicative competency."

Prosecutors want Pelham to be evaluated at the State Hospital.

Prosecutors will also ask the judge to increase Pelham's bond because "additional evidence has shown a greater level of involvement by the defendant than first thought." Prosecutors believe Pelham may have acted as a "lookout" while Holford beat Tuneberg to death. Pelham is also "linked" to the golf club believed to have struck the victim on the face, back and head.

Pelham's attorneys filed a response with the court, objecting to the increase in bond and the commitment to a mental hospital, recommended for the second evaluation.

"Incarceration is extremely traumatic for Mr. Pelham," his defense attorneys write in their motion filed with the court. "It was no small matter for Mr. Pelham's family to post a $200,000 bond, but they did so in order to alleviate the trauma Luke Pelham was suffering while incarcerated at the Boulder County Jail. Mr. Pelham is currently prescribed medication specifically to help him cope with nightmares and extreme anxiety that he still suffers regarding his time in jail."

In the motion filed with the court, Pelham's defense wrote, "Insofar as Mr. Pelham is incompetent, he is so due to a developmental and cognitive disability, not because he is likely to act out in unpredictable ways due to a violent psychotic episode."

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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