The attorney for the Nipomo man charged with arson for allegedly setting a fire inside a Santa Maria courtroom voiced doubt last week about his client’s mental competency, putting the criminal proceedings against him on indefinite hold.
The defendant, Eric Wolfgang Spies, 31, appeared in court Thursday to confirm the date for his preliminary hearing, tentatively set for Tuesday.
“His attorney, Ms. Pedego, declared his doubt as to his legal competence and criminal proceedings were suspended,” Deputy District Attorney Austin Ingalls told the News-Press.
“The court appointed two doctors to evaluate Mr. Spies as to his legal competence,” the prosecutor said. “The preliminary hearing previously set for 03/07/2023 was vacated. We are returning to court on March 30 for a competency determination hearing setting.”
Mr. Spies’ case is being heard in San Luis Obispo because a Santa Barbara judge, without specifying why, declared it would be a conflict of interest for a Santa Barbara County judge to preside over his criminal case.
The defendant has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of arson and second-degree commercial burglary in connection with the Feb. 18 incident, in which he allegedly broke into the Santa Maria courtroom and set a fire, triggering the sprinkler system.
Court officials said the combination of flames and water caused extensive damage to furniture, wall paneling, cabinetry, carpeting and court records. They estimated the cost to be about $750,000.
Mr. Spies allegedly went to the Santa Maria court complex, ignored a security guard’s order to leave and broke two glass doors to gain entry into the criminal court building. Once inside, he allegedly forced his way into a courtroom, pulling the doors so hard that he broke the wood frames on the top of the doors.
Court officials allege he then started a fire on the defense counsel’s chair, which spread to the table and carpet. The fire was so hot that it melted the lights in the ceiling and caused the sprinklers to come on, court officials said.
The defendant reportedly told the security guard he had received a notice about an upcoming hearing on a misdemeanor vandalism case and went to the court complex to see where he had to show up next month.
Mr. Spies asked the court at his arraignment to release him on a pretrial supervised release, but prosecutors objected based on public safety concerns. The court denied his request for release. He remains in custody with no bail amount listed.