Crime

Judge orders mental evaluation for suspect in fatal shooting at Fort Mill Peach Stand

Months after her death, 19-year-old Rock Hill woman still giving back

Karson Whitesell lived a life dedicated to service, her mom says. And after her death, she's continuing to touch people's lives. Her mom, Debbie Whitesell is collecting stuffed animals during May to donate in honor of Karson and Det. Mike Doty.
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Karson Whitesell lived a life dedicated to service, her mom says. And after her death, she's continuing to touch people's lives. Her mom, Debbie Whitesell is collecting stuffed animals during May to donate in honor of Karson and Det. Mike Doty.

The lawyer for accused killer Christopher Mendez said Mendez had been hospitalized for a mental health problem before he allegedly shot Karson Whitesell at the iconic Fort Mill Peach Stand on Jan. 23.

Whitesell, 19, was a clerk at the store. Arrest warrants say Mendez walked into the store and fatally shot Whitesell "several times with a handgun."

Mendez, 29, of Lancaster, is charged with murder and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.

Mendez' lawyer, 16th Circuit Assistant Public Defender Phil Smith, wrote in a motion filed May 11 that Mendez had "been hospitalized for a mental health issue not long before the incident for which he is charged."

Smith also said in court documents that Mendez gave police a statement after his arrest. "Mr. Mendez reported to law enforcement feelings and reasoning surrounding his conduct that warrants an evaluation of his mental condition currently and at the time of the alleged offense," Smith said.

York County Circuit Court Judge Dan Hall wrote that Mendez may not be able to assist in his own defense because Mendez could be mentally incompetent to both stand trial and help lawyers with his defense. Hall ordered that Mendez be evaluated. Hall wrote in the order he has reason to believe the "defendant may lack the competency to understand the criminal proceedings or to assist with the defense as a result of a lack of mental competence."

The court documents signed May 11 by Hall do not say why Mendez was hospitalized for mental treatment before the shooting or how long before the shooting Mendez received treatment. Court documents also do not detail how Mendez was able to obtain a weapon.

Efforts to reach Smith Monday were unsuccessful. Mendez is being held without bond at the York County jail.

Police have previously said the shooting death was "random."

Mendez was arrested at the scene after he dropped the gun on the ground, police said. Maj. Bryan Zachary, spokesman for the Fort Mill Police Department, declined comment Monday on Mendez having previous mental health treatment or what Mendez told police after being taken into custody.

The order signed by Hall also shows the first mention in court documents of a possible insanity defense.

Access to any examination report must "strike a balance between a defendant's right to explore the possibility of an insanity defense and prosecution's right to respond if such defense is raised," Hall wrote.

Prosecutor Willy Thompson, who also requested that Mendez undergo a mental evaluation, said Monday that it is "common" in cases where a person is charged with a violent crime to have some mental health history and an evaluation be ordered.

Hall issued the mental competency evaluation order after both prosecutors and Mendez' lawyer asked that Mendez be evaluated by the S.C. Department of Mental Health.

However, Thompson said, an evaluation does not mean someone is "incompetent" or "crazy."

Mendez worked at Goodwill in Lancaster before the shooting.

Whitsell was a graduate of South Pointe High School and worked for years at The Peach Stand. She was active in church mission trips in Africa. Her mother has created a foundation for children in Karson's name.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald
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