Man Accused In Arson Series To Undergo Mental Competency Evaluation - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Man Accused In Arson Series To Undergo Mental Competency Evaluation

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A man accused of setting a dozen fires in San Diego over a two-hour period after becoming upset with paramedics will be examined by doctors to see if he's mentally competent to stand trial, a judge ruled today.

On the day his preliminary hearing was to be held, the attorney for Joseph Benenati told Judge Robert Trentacosta that he wanted his client evaluated.

A doctor will assess whether Benenati understands the charges against him and can assist his lawyer at trial. A hearing on the findings is scheduled for July 26.

Criminal proceedings will be reinstated if a judge rules Benenati is mentally competent for trial. If not, the defendant would be sent to a state mental hospital until his competency is restored.

Deputy District Attorney Allen Brown said at Benenati's arraignment in April that the defendant got into a verbal argument with two paramedics last October, then got into another skirmish with them in February near a 7-Eleven store.

A week or so later, Benenati went to Fire Department headquarters and demanded to speak to the paramedics, Brown said.

As a result, the Fire Department sought a restraining order that was served on the defendant on April 3, the prosecutor said.

Benenati is accused of setting the 12 fires in North Park between 12:30 and 2:45 a.m. on April 5, damaging four commercial structures, two vehicles, a shed and a fence.

Investigators determined they were "similar fires," started in the same way by a man riding a bicycle, Brown said.

Benenati was arrested at his home in University Heights April 10.

He is charged with arson to a structure, arson to personal property and arson to an inhabited dwelling and faces nearly 43 years in prison if convicted.

No one was injured in the arson series, Brown said.

The worst damage was to a carport at 4536 Idaho St. that was ignited by a burning vehicle, causing an estimated $10,000 in damage, according to authorities.

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