A man accused of perpetrating a random attack that severely injured a 7-year-old Desert Hot Springs boy will be the subject of a mental competency trial, based on findings Thursday that raised doubts about his ability to understand right and wrong.
Daniel Birch Poulsen, 32, was arrested in July after allegedly attacking Gavin Ludwick in the middle of the street in the 9600 block of Vista Del Valle, fracturing the boy's skull and rendering him unconscious.
At the request of the prosecution, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Harold Hopp ordered a jury trial to determine whether Poulsen is mentally fit to be prosecuted on one count each of attempted murder and willful child cruelty, along with two sentence-enhancing allegations of inflicting great bodily injury.
The defendant, who is being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside, is set to return to the Larson Justice Center in Indio for a trial-setting conference on December 2, 2020.
To be considered incompetent to stand trial, it must be shown that Poulsen does not understand the nature of the criminal proceedings against him, or how to answer the charges.
Proceedings against the defendant were suspended over the summer after Poulsen's attorney expressed doubts regarding his client's mental fitness.
Two behavioral health specialists were appointed by the court to evaluate the defendant's mental competency.
He is no stranger to competency proceedings. Court records show he has been found mentally incompetent to stand trial multiple times over the years.
On the night of July 18, police officers were alerted to a child lying unconscious on Vista Del Valle. Investigators determined the boy was deliberately attacked, and arrested Poulsen the next day, although police did not reveal how they identified him as the alleged perpetrator.
Desert Hot Springs Deputy Police Chief Steven Shaw said Poulsen and the boy lived in the same neighborhood, but did not appear to know each other.
“Everything is indicating this is an absolutely random attack,'' Shaw said earlier.
According to a GoFundMe page posted by a friend of Gavin's family, the youngster was attacked while he was walking home from swimming at a neighbor's house. He was later found bloodied in the middle of the street in the midst of a seizure, according to loved ones.
They said Gavin spent several weeks in the hospital and is now home recovering after having a metal plate inserted into a portion of his skull that was damaged in the attack.
The boy was with friends and family in front of the Indio courthouse this morning, with Gavin wearing a shirt reading “I deserve justice,” according to the GoFundMe page, which has raised more than $202,000 to date.
Court records show the defendant has been found mentally incompetent to stand trial at least 11 times. Records additionally indicate he has been arrested and charged 15 times in Riverside County since 2007 for a variety of alleged crimes, including burglary, battery, resisting arrest, indecent exposure, committing lewd acts in public and annoying or molesting a child under 18 years old. All were misdemeanor cases.
Poulsen has no documented felony convictions in Riverside County.