A former Ohio University student who is charged with forging signatures on a ballot petition has filed a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, and asked a judge to order a psychological assessment of his competence to stand trial.
Timothy N. Zureick, 21, was indicted last month on 22 low-grade felony counts of false voter registration and one count of election falsification. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Because each alleged fake signature counts as an individual offense that can be punished separately, if Zureick were convicted on all counts he would face a maximum sentence of 23 years in prison and a $57,500 fine.
Zureick, who reportedly left OU in 2010, had been working for FieldWorks, a big political canvassing firm based in Washington, D.C., distributing petitions for state Issue 2, a ballot measure to change Ohio's political redistricting methods.
Authorities allege that he faked 22 signatures on a petition – including the names of various persons prominent in the Athens County Democratic Party – and also signed his own name with a false address. Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn has said that FieldWorks is not suspected of any complicity in Zureick's alleged crime.
Last Tuesday, Athens County Common Pleas Judge L. Alan Goldsberry, in response to filings by Zureick's defense attorney, issued an order that Zureick be examined by mental-health experts at a state forensic center, to determine whether he is psychologically competent to stand trial.
If the examiners determine that Zureick is not competent for trial, the judge stated in the court filing, they should also offer an opinion on whether his competency might be restored within one year, and on whether he suffers from either mental illness or developmental disability.
A plea of not guilty by reason of insanity is different from a claim of non-competence. Legally, a person who is insane does not know that his actions were wrong while a person who is not competent for trial is incapable of understanding the legal process or offering assistance to his defense counsel.
Local authorities arrested Zureick at his father's home in Cincinnati in August, after Athens County Board of Elections officials raised questions about the petition he had submitted.
He was initially jailed, but later released after posting $1,500 bond.
Prosecutor Blackburn has indicated that he is in negotiations with Hedrick about a possible plea bargain in the case, but that he, Blackburn, wants to make sure that any plea bargain involves at least some jail time for Zureick.