Batesville man found not competent to stand trial

Wanda English Burnett

James L. Fernbach Jr., 32, of Batesville, will not stand trial on the Attempted Murder charges that have been filed against him in Ripley County Circuit Court.

While trial was set to begin October 26, instead a hearing was held regarding the competency of the defendant on that day. The hearing was closed to the public as doctors testified about Fernbach’s state of mind.

Judge Carl Taul made the ruling with the evidence presented. In a filed document it reads, “The defendant presently does not have comprehension sufficient to understand the nature of this criminal action against him and to make a defense thereto.”

The court records reflect that trial proceedings against Fernbach are delayed with the defendant being remanded to the Department of Mental Health, State of Indiana to be housed in an appropriate psychiatric institution.

In a court document entitled “Confinement Authority - Lacking Ability to Understand and Assist” and filed November 2, it noted that the state hospital where Fernbach will be kept must notify the court if the defendant’s ability to understand the proceedings and assist in the preparation of his defense, changes.

Fernbach’s mental state will be monitored. If he reaches a point where he is certified to have the ability to understand court proceedings against him, he will be brought to trial at that time. Until then, he will remain in a state mental facility.

“At this point there is some security, however, there is no closure,” commented Prosecutor Ric Hertel. He further noted, “In my time in the prosecutor’s office I have found that some closure is critical to the healing process especially in a case of this magnitude.” He noted that he had concerns for the injured - the two men who were shot - as well as their families.

On April 4 Fernbach himself called 911 telling them he had “shot someone”, according to Ripley Publishing Co. files.

Fernbach had allegedly shot two men in the parking lot of the Marathon Gas Station, or more commonly known as the Day & Nite East on Hwy 46 in Batesville.

A store clerk told the media the defendant was a regular customer and she hadn’t noticed anything different about him that day. However, when he exited the store, he allegedly shot Phillip Ray Cruser, 56, of Westport, as his wife looked on. Then Benjamin Dick, 26, of Batesville, was also shot when he struggled with Fernbach after seeing him shoot Cruser.

Fernbach then drove to his home on County Road 1150 North, called 911, and was taken into custody shortly after the shooting incident occurred.

In an Initial Hearing held April 7 Ripley County Prosecutor Ric Hertel petitioned the court to set the bail for Fernbach at $2M. He described the defendant as a “danger not only to the individuals who were shot, but the community at large.” Investigators did not know if the defendant even knew the victims.

At the Initial Hearing, Judge Carl Taul read the rules of the court proceedings and asked Fernbach for comment on the bail that was set. Fernbach’s reply was, “I’m glad nobody’s dead, killed, or wasn’t something I planned.”

Again the judge asked him if he understood the bail. Fernbach said, “I’m fine with that, I couldn’t post that anyway.” He has remained incarcerated since that hearing.

Prosecutor Hertel noted that while he doesn’t always agree with the way laws are written, he is bound to follow them. His greatest concern is for the victims in this case.