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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pembroke man has miracle brain injury recovery, but now faces rape trial

Competency is central issue for Pembroke man

By Jennifer Mann
The Patriot Ledger
Posted Jul 21, 2010 @ 07:38 AM
Brain injuries from a boat accident left Sean Ebert unable to walk, talk or feed himself. That was 15 years ago, when the 10-year-old from Pembroke arrived at Boston City Hospital with a fractured skull and a broken collarbone, in severe shock and bleeding from both ears.
Doctors had to induce a coma, and for several heart-wrenching days, his family waited. Then Ebert awoke.
What followed over the next year was what many called a miraculous recovery, chronicled by The Patriot Ledger at the time. Ebert regained control of his body and returned to school.
He later learned to swim, got one of his ears pierced and considered playing hockey again. 
Ebert’s recovery from the July 16, 1995, crash on Monponsett Pond in Halifax was a story of personal triumph. Now it has emerged as a central issue in his pending trial on charges of child rape.
Pembroke police, who arrested Ebert in March 2009, say he raped and sexually assaulted a girl from 2001 to 2004, beginning when she was 8 and he was 16. He was indicted by a grand jury and arraigned in Superior Court last May, pleading innocent to charges of forcible child rape, indecent assault and battery on a child, intimidating a witness and open and gross lewdness.
Ebert’s competency to stand trial was the focus of a hearing scheduled for today in Brockton Superior Court.
Ebert’s attorney, Jack Atwood, argues that Ebert, now 25 and living with his parents in Pembroke, still suffers repercussions from the accident that prevent him from adequately participating in his own defense.
“The kid gets hit in the head and they’re baby-sitting him for the rest of his life,” Atwood said with a shake of his head as he discussed the case with a reporter after a March hearing. “He doesn’t even get my name right.”
Dr. Ronald Ebert, a psychiatrist hired by the defendant, determined after an evaluation that Ebert is not competent to stand trial, according to court records.
The court had Dr. Ann Johnson evaluate Ebert last September. She testified that Ebert “had substantial deficits and was severely impaired in his trial-related competency,” and that she was unsure whether he could regain competency, according to an affidavit filed by Plymouth County prosecutor Suzanne McDonough.
McDonough planned to ask the judge today to allow the prosecution’s own expert to examine Ebert. She also plans to ask for records from Ebert’s past employers and from the Silver Lake and Pembroke school systems, which Ebert attended from 1990 to 2003.
“The defendant’s competency is an issue for the court to decide based on the evidence presented,” Bridget Middleton, spokeswoman for the Plymouth County district attorney’s office, said. She declined further comment.
Atwood is seeking to suppress the school records, arguing that they were obtained by police and improperly viewed by prosecutors without a court hearing.
In the 1995 crash, Ebert was riding in a boat with his two older brothers when a 14-year-old on a personal watercraft lost control and crashed into the boat exactly where Ebert was sitting. Ebert was the only one hurt.
His recovery was filled with challenges, The Ledger reported in subsequent stories. His memory was shattered and he had to relearn who his family was. It took five months for him to remember events from his childhood. He suffered from aphasia, a condition in which a person can’t associate objects with their names. He saw neurologists, speech therapists and reading specialists.
Ebert’s mother told police that a neuropsychologist in 2001 determined that her son’s alleged sexual impulses were the result of his head injury, according to a court affidavit. The family did not return phone calls for this article.
David Frank of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly said a defendant’s competency to stand trial comes up fairly regularly. While often confused with the insanity defense, competency can return as an issue throughout a case. It hinges on whether a defendant understands court proceedings and can assist his or her lawyer, Frank said.
“These cases tend to come down to battles of the experts,” he said. “If you talk to judges and people familiar with the issue of competency, they will tell you: these are among the most difficult questions to answer.”
Jennifer Mann may be reached at jmann@ledger.com.
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