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Originally published November 21, 2011 at 5:17 PM | Page modified November 21, 2011 at 5:18 PM

Doctor won't face death penalty at trial for slayings of partner, toddler son

A physician charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder in connection with the August slayings of his partner and their 2-year-old son won't face the death penalty, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

Seattle Times staff reporter

quotes I find it odd that this man who is accused of violently murdering his partner and his... Read more
quotes Good! Let him rot in prison for a long, long time. Read more
quotes Many mental disorders, like schizophrenia, paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, et... Read more

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A physician charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder in connection with the August slayings of his partner and their 2-year-old son won't face the death penalty.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced in a news release Monday that his office will not seek the death penalty against Dr. Louis Chen, though the release does not explain which "relevant mitigating factors" influenced the decision.

Satterberg determined capital punishment was not appropriate under state law, but his spokesman, Dan Donohoe, declined to elaborate beyond what was in the news release.

However, court records indicate Chen's competency to stand trial has been an ongoing concern to both prosecutors and defense.

Among the factors juries can consider in determining if leniency in capital cases is merited is a defendant's criminal history as well as impairment due to "mental disease or defect" or an "extreme mental disturbance" during the commission of a killing, according to state law.

Chen does not have a criminal record and is currently taking psychiatric medications, making both factors that may have influenced Satterberg's decision.

Todd Maybrown, a member of Chen's defense team, said Monday that he and his co-counsel believed "this would not be an appropriate case to seek the death penalty and we're appreciative that the prosecutor has reached the same conclusion."

During a court hearing in October, Maybrown disclosed that Chen is under the care of a psychiatrist and has been prescribed psychiatric medications by staff at the King County Jail.

He said Monday that he hopes the issue of Chen's competency to stand trial can be resolved at Chen's next hearing Dec. 8.

According to court records, Chen was to undergo a 15-day competency evaluation at Western State Hospital. But due to a backlog of patients, an evaluation by a hospital expert will now be conducted at the King County Jail, though a date has not been set, court records show.

Aggravated murder carries two possible penalties: life in prison or death.

Chen, 39, was to begin work at Virginia Mason Medical Center on Aug. 15. After he failed to appear for an orientation Aug. 11, a hospital representative went to Chen's apartment on First Hill. She found Chen nude, semiconscious and covered in dried blood, according to charging documents.

Seattle police were called and found the bodies of his partner, Eric Cooper, 29, and Cooper Chen, who had been killed the day before, the King County Medical Examiner's Office said.

Prosecutors allege that Chen stabbed Eric Cooper "well over" 100 times. The couple's son suffered "numerous cuts to his neck," according to charging documents.

Chen and Cooper were reportedly in the midst of ending their long-term relationship.

According to a letter dated Nov. 16, a psychiatrist found Chen incompetent to stand trial after evaluating him twice in the King County Jail. The letter, which is part of the court record, notes that Chen's "mental condition was significantly improved" after a visit last week, indicating a "therapeutic response to the psychiatric medications" he's been prescribed.

Chen was able to "convey information in a linear, organized manner" and was able "to understand what was said to him without distortions related to paranoid delusions," wrote Dr. Mark McClung, a forensic psychiatrist.

"His memory, concentration, attention span, and ability to focus are sufficient for assisting counsel in his defense," wrote McClung, who concluded, "it is my psychiatric opinion that Louis Chen's psychiatric condition no longer impairs his competency to stand trial," so long as he continues to take his medications.

To be found competent, the state requires that criminal defendants be able to understand the nature of the proceedings against them and rationally help their attorneys defend them.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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