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Driver in H&R fatality undergoes testing for diminished capacity

Chad Thomas Cuevas has undergone testing for a diminished capacity defense.
Chad Thomas Cuevas has undergone testing for a diminished capacity defense.(KASPER)
Published: Oct. 15, 2020 at 4:34 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A 52-year-old defendant charged with murder in the death of a pedestrian fleeing a sports car when he was struck from behind has undergone testing for a diminished capacity defense, the motorist’s defense attorney said Thursday.

On August 14, Chad Thomas Cuevas, 52, was bound over on a charge of premeditated first-degree murder in the death of Emerson Duane Downing, 41, of Topeka.

On Thursday, defense attorney Jonathan Phelps said in Shawnee County District Court that Cuevas has undergone testing for the diminished capacity defense. Phelps asked for a 60-day extension in the case, which was granted.

Cuevas next will appear in court at a status hearing on December 18 before District Court Judge Nancy Parrish.

In a defense motion filed on September 11, Phelps said an evaluation was to be done on Cuevas.

In that motion, Phelps wrote the evaluation had been delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak at the Shawnee County Jail at that time and contact with inmates had been suspended.

During Cuevas’s preliminary hearing on July 14, witnesses testified Downing was running across an open field when a sports car struck him from behind, fatally injuring him.

Surveillance video at Kansas Power Train, a nearby North Topeka business, showed a black sports “car running over a person” and chasing other people across a field,  a business employee testified.

Another Power Train employee testified he heard someone yell, " ‘You gonna (epithet) die today!’ I witnessed a black car run over a gentleman. It did not appear to brake."

The car “hopped” when it struck Downing, he said.

Downing was fatally injured in Curtis Memorial Park in North Topeka.

Downing suffered a “significant dislocation” of his brain stem, Hollenbeck testified.

Downing died of “blunt force injuries” to his head and neck during the homicide, which is death “at the hands of another,” forensic pathologist Tiffany Hollenbeck testified during Cuevas' preliminary hearing.

Downing suffered a “significant dislocation” of his brain stem, Hollenbeck testified.

On Thursday, the court hearing was conducted through a video teleconference in which the judge, defendant, prosecutor, Phelps, and court reporter were in different locations. The zoom conference was used based on the recommendation of the Kansas Supreme Court due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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