Judge orders competency evaluation for woman accused of killing Monroe truck driver

Lawyer has doubts Mariana Lesnic can represent herself at trial

Mariana Lesnic walks into the courtroom for a hearing at Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. Lesnic is charged with first-degree murder in the Sept. 6, 2017 death of Ernest Kummer. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Mariana Lesnic walks into the courtroom for a hearing at Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. Lesnic is charged with first-degree murder in the Sept. 6, 2017 death of Ernest Kummer. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

MARENGO — A judge ruled Friday to suspend court proceedings for a woman, accused of fatally shooting a Monroe truck driver, pending an evaluation for competency to stand trial and represent herself, which she requested last month.

Mariana Lesnic, 43, wrote a letter to the court, saying she didn’t want the Johnson County public defenders to represent her. She’s “unhappy” with them and their plans to defend her, according to her letter filed in Iowa County District Court.

On Friday, Lesnic asked 6th Judicial District Judge Andrew Chappell if she could have a different lawyer than a Johnson County public defender. Chappell told her the court could take that up after the competency issue is resolved.

Eric Tindal, an Iowa City lawyer appointed to counsel Lesnic on representing herself, asked the judge for a competency evaluation based on his meetings with Lesnic. He had talked with her several times and for multiple hours about the court process and her decision to represent herself.

Tindal, who said he didn’t have training to make a mental evaluation but did have experience with defendants who have had mental health issues, said he had serious concerns about Lesnic being able to assist in her defense or represent herself.

In his motion, he said Lesnic, who is charged with first-degree murder and facing a life sentence if convicted, cannot even complete a discussion about the trial proceedings and rules of evidence.

Iowa County Attorney Tim McMeen said he didn’t want to go forward if there is a competency issue and asked the judge to send Lesnic to the Iowa Medical Classification Center in Coralville to be evaluated for competency to stand trial and represent herself.

Chappell said he would order the evaluation.  

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Lesnic, whose address is unknown to police, is accused of fatally shooting Ernest Kummer, 60, who was found dead from a gunshot wound to his head inside the sleep cab of his semi-trailer truck about 2:37 a.m. Sept. 6. The truck was parked at the westbound Interstate 80 rest stop near Victor, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Lesnic's trial is set for Jan. 23, but that date could change since the proceedings are suspended for now. She remains in jail with bail set at $1 million.

Police haven’t released a motive in the fatal shooting.

An affidavit shows Lesnic was the person who called 911 about the shooting. She told police she shot Kummer and was “sick over it.” Lesnic told officers the small, semi-automatic gun was in her purse, which was found on the ground next to her at the scene, according to the affidavit.     

Investigators also requested a search warrant to examine cellphone records between Lesnic and Kummer and two thumb drives from Lesnic’s purse, court documents show. All other electronic equipment, including any global positioning system devices, also were confiscated and examined to retrieve any possible evidence to determine where Kummer and Lesnic had traveled before the shooting, as well as the nature of their relationship.  

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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