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Originally published April 17, 2012 at 7:13 PM | Page modified April 17, 2012 at 7:28 PM

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Hatchet murder suspect's mental state again at issue

A Seattle man charged with killing two strangers with a hatchet in November 2010 is back at Western State Hospital in an effort to restore his mental competency.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A homeless Seattle man charged with killing two strangers with a hatchet two and a half years ago is back at Western State Hospital, where doctors will try to restore his mental competency.

Michael LaRosa had long been struggling with mental illnesses, according to his family, when he allegedly attacked Joseph LaMagno, 58, and Dale Richard Holme, 64, in November 2010. The attacks were unprovoked, according to King County prosecutors.

Since his arrest in an alley just steps from where LaMagno was killed, LaRosa's mental competency has been in question.

In December, the 27-year-old man was evaluated at Western State Hospital and deemed competent to stand trial. Late last month, King County Superior Court Judge Ronald Kessler deemed him incompetent and ordered him returned to Western State for 90 days so doctors there can try to help him regain mental competency, according to court filings.

"Experts from Western State had found that his mental competency had deteriorated while awaiting trial," said Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff for Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. "A criminal defendant is legally competent to stand trial when he understands the nature of the charges against him and can assist his attorney in preparing a defense."

LaRosa is set to return to King County Superior Court for a hearing regarding his mental-health status on July 2. A trial date has not been set.

"This means the criminal case is put on hold for a minimum of 90 days in the hopes that he can be treated and found competent to stand trial," Goodhew said. "It's our goal that he's found competent so he can stand trial for the two murder charges."

According to charging documents, LaRosa was hearing voices when he killed LaMagno after both men left a Capitol Hill grocery on Nov. 22. Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Baird said schoolchildren, people on the street and a Metro bus full of passengers witnessed the attack.

LaRosa told police that he believed that LaMagno told him, "I gave your sister herpes, without having it," according to the criminal charges.

In February 2011, three months after LaRosa was charged with first-degree murder in LaMagno's slaying, Baird filed a first-degree murder charge in connection with Holme's death. Though Holme was attacked on Nov. 21 in Seattle's Chinatown International District, the case remained under investigation while evidence was being tested by the State Patrol Crime Lab.

Holme was found slumped at the base of a loading dock at Fifth Avenue South and South Weller Street. Holme's head injuries were initially investigated as possibly related to a fall. Police did not connect the cases until after an autopsy was performed.

When homicide investigators talked to LaRosa about the slaying, LaRosa said he thought that Holme had given him a cigarette poisoned with gasoline, according to charging papers.

LaRosa said that he "felt like I had to defend myself" against Holme, so he pulled out the hatchet and struck the man "up to five times" in the head, charges said. After the attack, LaRosa put the weapon in his backpack and "casually walked away," charging paperwork said.

DNA from LaMagno and Holme was found on the hatchet and in LaRosa's backpack, authorities said.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

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