UPDATE: Judge sets 2019 hearing to decide whether Guntersville capital murder suspect gets a mental health evaluation

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A Marshall County Judge has set a March 2019 date as the earliest time he will consider a motion on a mental health evaluation for Jimmy O'Neal Spencer, the Guntersville triple murder suspect. Judge Tim Riley scheduled a March 4, 2019 date to consider the motion. He said any newly filed motions will also be heard on this date.

On Monday, the attorneys for Spencer filed for a mental health evaluation to determine whether Spencer is able to stand trial and help lawyers in his defense.

Additionally, this mental health evaluation may help attorneys understand his mental state and if it played any role in the case against him. Included in the motion for the evaluation, the defense says, 'undersigned counsel states on information and belief that Defendant has been diagnosed with a significant mental illness and has been committed for mental health evaluation on at least one occasion for psychiatric issues.'

Robert Tuten and Jerry Baker, both attorneys for Spencer, cannot comment on a pending motion. But, WHNT News 19 spoke  with local defense attorney Mark McDaniel who broadly explained what the defense is asking for when they request a mental evaluation.

"Do you have the present, mental capacity to communicate with your lawyers, to help your lawyers," McDaniel explained. "Do you understand the proceedings and the facts of the case against you."

McDaniel explained if the defense is arguing a person is not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, the catch is the defendant has to prove something. Usually, it's up to the prosecution to prove to the jury the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

For the insanity defense, the defendant has to show the jury that because the person's mental illness is so severe, they couldn't tell right from wrong at the time of the crime.

"To get off with insanity, it's a tough defense, you've got to prove that not only does this person have a severe disease or defect, but he didn't know right from wrong, he didn't even know what he was doing," McDaniel said.

McDaniel said the psychologists for the state and defense look at every move the suspect made after the crime.

"Anything that the defendant does to hide, to run, to do anything, to show that they knew right from wrong, would be used against them to show that they did know right from wrong," McDaniel said.

McDaniel's watched high profile cases in his 40 plus years of legal work. He said the mental evaluation can help the defense, not only in arguing during the guilty phase but the sentencing phase too.

The findings may also be used to help persuade the jury not to recommend the death penalty in a capital murder case.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Spencer. Spencer's next hearing is on Monday at the Marshall County Courthouse.

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