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Suspect in killing of Merge sous chef found competent for trial

After about three years in a state psychiatric center, the dishwasher charged with fatally shooting a co-worker at Merge restaurant in Buffalo and trying to kill two others has been found competent to stand trial.

Ernesto Archavaleta-Taureaux, a Cuban refugee who was 51 at the time of the shooting in 2010, contended he was fit for trial.

Attorneys for both the prosecution and defense sided with him. Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, who will be the prosecutor in this case, agreed with John R. Nuchereno, a defense lawyer assigned to represent Archavaleta-Taureaux at the competency hearing, that Archavaleta-Taureaux was fit for trial.

“The evidence was pretty clear this man has improved dramatically over the years,” Nuchereno said, but the attorney added, “he’s mentally ill.”

The state Office of Mental Health sought an order to keep Archavaleta-Taureaux in the Central New York Psychiatric Center for a while longer.

A psychiatrist from the center said Archavaleta-Taureaux suffers from a delusional disorder.

A judge held a hearing May 15 in which the state’s psychiatrist and a psychiatrist hired by the defense testified.

“The court finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the delusional disorder does not impair the defendant’s ability to understand the proceedings or assist in his defense,” State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns ruled.

To be considered competent, a defendant must have the ability to consult with a lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and the ability to understand the pending charges.

The Porter Avenue man was charged with killing sous chef Ricky Costner Jr., 18; repeatedly shooting his father, Ricky Costner Sr., the restaurant’s general manager; and firing at head chef Daniel Church in the Delaware Avenue restaurant Jan. 16, 2010.

“He’s seriously ill,” Nuchereno said of Archavaleta-Taureaux. “He has tried his best with medications to become oriented with time and date and to work with his attorney. He’s sincere. He’s not trying to fake anybody out.”

Sedita has handled the case himself so far and plans to continue.

“I wanted to take a turn at the wheel,” said Sedita, who has prosecuted nearly a dozen psychiatric cases during his career.

Since becoming district attorney in 2009, Sedita has appeared in courtrooms to prosecute defendants in a handful of cases.

Sedita said he has already been notified by the defense lawyer handling Archavaleta-Taureaux’ criminal defense that an insanity defense will be pursued.

Archavaleta-Taureaux faces a second-degree murder charge and two attempted second-degree murder counts.