A Judge or Jury for Pasco Murder Trial? - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

A Judge or Jury for Pasco Murder Trial?

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Joseph Hart, a Pasco man charged with murder, must decide soon if he wants a jury or a judge to decide his fate. Joseph Hart, a Pasco man charged with murder, must decide soon if he wants a jury or a judge to decide his fate.

PASCO, WA - A man charged with murder must decide soon if he wants a jury or a judge to decide his fate.

Joseph Hart goes on trial next month. Franklin County Prosecutor Shawn Sant says court administrators need to know whether they will need to summon a jury.

Pasco police arrested Hart in March 2011 at the Sundance Mobile Home Park where he lived in a trailer with Rodger Lincoln, 56. Prosecutors say Hart stabbed Lincoln during an argument.

Lourdes Health Network owns the trailer and uses it to provide housing for mental health patients.

Scott Johnson, Hart's attorney, told the judge Tuesday that he and the prosecutor are preparing for a trial, but both Johnson and Sant say a plea agreement remains an option.

If the case goes to trial, Johnson says Hart will use an insanity defense.

Franklin County Superior Court Judge Carrie Runge put Hart's criminal case on hold for several months while psychiatrists at Eastern State Hospital in Cheney examined Hart and treated him for schizophrenia. The doctors diagnosed Hart competent to stand trial.

If convicted as charged, it would be Hart's third conviction. Under Washington's Three Strikes Law, Hart would face a mandatory life prison term.

Johnson says he remains optimistic he and Sant can reach a plea agreement that would spare Hart from prison.

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