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Attica woman who hid husband’s body under manure ruled competent for trial

A Wyoming County judge has ruled that an Attica farm wife accused of bludgeoning her husband, stabbing him with a pitchfork and hiding his body under a manure pile is competent to stand trial.

The decision by Judge Michael M. Mohun, which came Wednesday, clears the way for Charlene Mess, 48, to be prosecuted in the death of her husband, Douglas W. Mess, in the house on their dairy farm on Exchange Street last April 19. She is charged with second-degree murder, evidence tampering for hiding the body and giving a false written statement about the incident.

Mess had joined in the search last spring after one of the couple’s sons reported his father missing. One sharp-eyed searcher noticed that a manure pile near a barn about 300 yards from the house appeared to be disturbed. Douglas Mess’ body was found with his hands tied behind his back under three feet of manure.

In October, two psychiatrists hired by the defense deemed that Charlene Mess was not competent to help in her defense, but Wyoming County District Attorney Donald G. O’Geen contested their opinions, saying they were based on extremely brief interviews with the defendant. A psychiatrist hired by prosecutors examined Mess in December and reported that she would be able to understand court proceedings and help in her defense.

A hearing was held on the matter in February and in his decision issued Wednesday, Mohun agreed with the prosecution.

The judge noted in the ruling a few things about what he called Mess’ odd behavior: “When in court on this case, the defendant gives every impression of being oblivious to what is happening around her. Her head is kept down,with her face covered by her long hair. She sits next to her attorney shaking continuously and rocking back and forth.”

The judge also said it was evident that this was the same persona she presented to the psychiatrist. One doctor noted that “I don’t know” was her most common answer to his questions and suggested she may have reverted to “a more primitive personality as a defense mechanism.”

The third doctor, who interviewed Mess several months after the other two, reviewed Mess’ medical records, police interviews and video recordings of her in jail, among other information, along with interviewing her. The judge writes that the defendant actively participated in the proceedings related to her husband’s estate, made numerous phone calls to her mother, used the jail commissary and even took classes in jail.

O’Geen said in a written summation that “Ms. Mess functions well inside the jail – she converses with family, other inmates and jail staff; she maintains relationships and she participates in classes and activities.”

The judge also referenced the case regarding Douglas Mess’ estate, noting that it showed “the defendant has the capability to function well in court proceedings – even when those court proceedings are related to her husband’s death.” In fact, he wrote, in one phone call, “the defendant can be heard giving detailed reasons (to be relayed to an attorney) why one family member should not under any circumstances be appointed administrator of the estate.”

O’Geen said he expects a hearing on admissibility of statements Mess made to authorities will be scheduled for May.