Mental health raised by defense in Vegas Strip stabbing case

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A defense lawyer raised mental health questions Tuesday about a man accused of killing two people and wounding six in a stabbing rampage last week on a Las Vegas Strip sidewalk.

The suspect, Yoni Christian Barrios, stood in shackles during his brief arraignment and spoke only to say he understood he was being charged with two counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder. He was not immediately asked to enter a plea.

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Harmony Letizia set a Jan. 12 hearing to determine if Barrios will face trial in state court on charges that could have him confronting a possible death penalty, and ordered him to remain jailed without bail. A grand jury could indict Barrios before that time.

“We’re doing an evaluation regarding competency based on the nature of everything we know so far,” deputy public defender Scott Coffee said outside court after the hearing. “Obviously there are mental health concerns.”

Authorities say Barrios, 32, asked sidewalk showgirls to pose with him for a photo before wielding a large chef’s knife to fatally stab Maris DiGiovanni, 30, and Brent Allan Hallett, 46, on Oct. 6 outside the Wynn Las Vegas resort.

Two other women dressed as showgirls were among the six people injured in the midday attack, according to police.

Coffee and Tuesday he and defense attorney Jeff Maningo were investigating their client’s background, but Coffee said they believed Barrios was born in Guatemala and has lived in the U.S. for at least several years. It was not immediately clear if Barrios is a documented immigrant.

Prosecutor John Giordani declined to comment on Barrios’ citizenship and mental status. He said surveillance video clearly shows the attack.

Coffee said he was aware that a man who identified himself as Barrios approached a videographer for Los Angeles NBC sister station Telemundo 52 outside Los Angeles City Hall on Oct. 4 and asked for help, saying he had lost his home and everything he had.

The defense attorney said Barrios may have been under enough stress to trigger what Coffee termed a psychotic episode.

A Las Vegas police arrest report said that after arriving in Las Vegas, Barrios sought work at the Wynn and asked a hotel janitor to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to return him to Guatemala before the alleged sidewalk attack.

Barrios told police he was trying to sell his chef’s knives so he could go back home, and police said he was wearing a chef’s long-sleeved white jacket that was stained with blood when he was arrested after a short chase.

Officers also retrieved a knife that Barrios was believed to have thrown into bushes as he fled, according to the authorities.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson has said prosecutors will decide in coming weeks whether to seek the death penalty in the case.

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