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Ex-Sheriff Lee Baca Wants A Mental Illness Expert to Testify At His Trial

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Lee Baca. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Ex-Sheriff Lee Baca's trial hasn't even happened yet, but it already feels as if we've gone down a long and winding path. Earlier this year, Baca had agreed to plead guilty for lying to federal authorities who were investigating violations within his department. His lawyers requested that he serve no more than six months, citing his failing mental health (Baca came forward in June to say he had Alzheimer's disease). A judge rejected the plea deal, saying that six months was too lenient a sentence. Baca then withdrew his guilty plea and agreed to go to trial. Upon this move, Baca was indicted with more charges and now faces up to 20 years in prison.

In the latest development, Baca's defense team has requested that Dr. James Spar, a psychiatrist at UCLA, be allowed to provide testimony during the trial, which is scheduled to begin on December 6.

Court records obtained by the L.A. Times show that Spar will tell jurors that Baca was likely suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's in April 2013, when he spoke with federal investigators. In that conversation, Baca had told investigators that he had no idea that his deputies had been obstructing FBI agents who were looking into allegations of beatings and abuse within the county's prison system. Prosecutors also later claimed that deputies were sent to the house of one federal agent to intimidate her into silence. Baca told investigators he was not aware of this incident either. Prosecutors say this is a lie, and allege that he'd personally dispatched the deputies to the agent's home, according to KPCC.

According to the Times, Spar is expected to claim that, while Baca wasn't diagnosed until earlier this year, it's possible that the early stages of Alzheimer's had clouded his memory of events. Prosecutors, on the other hand, say that from 2010 to 2013 Baca had met with doctors who "observed and reported that he was alert and oriented to person, place and time, and that...psychiatric affect was always normal."

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Spar was involved in another high-profile trial in 2014, when judge determined that Shelly Sterling, Donald Sterling's ex-wife, had rightfully taken ownership of the L.A. Clippers from her husband. Spar had testified saying that Donald Sterling's mental health had deteriorated, and that he was no longer fit to be part of the Clippers' ownership.

In April, Paul Tanaka, Baca's former second-in-command was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges, and is now serving a five-year sentence.