Appeals court approves involuntarily medicating Nikiski man for murder trial

the kenai courthouse
The courthouse in Kenai. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

A Nikiski man accused of murdering his mother in 2022 can be involuntarily medicated so that he can stand trial, the Alaska Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

Alaska State Troopers arrested then 20-year-old River Aspelund at the Nikiski home he shared with his mother, Jeryl Bates. According to court documents, Aspelund’s sister called police to check on her mother after she failed to show up for work. Troopers found Bates’ body with gunshot and stab wounds, while Aspelund was asleep in the home.

Aspelund was charged with first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter and evidence tampering. After arrest, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, found incompetent to stand trial and committed to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage. Staff there prescribed antipsychotic medications which he refused to take, according to court documents. The state then filed a motion to involuntarily medicate him.

A U.S. Supreme Court case, Sell v. United States, allows states to involuntarily medicate people in custody if certain conditions are met. The Kenai Superior Court held a hearing in August 2023 to administer what’s known as a Sell test, where they heard testimony from a forensic psychologist and a physiatrist treating Aspelund.

Both said antipsychotic medications would better allow Aspelund to stand trial. His sister also testified, though she said she feared the medication might make his symptoms worse based on past behavior.

The superior court was convinced and said Aspelund could be medicated, but he filed a petition for review. In its Friday ruling, the appellate court upheld the findings of the Sell test and also said Aspelund can be involuntarily medicated for trial.

Aspelund’s next court date is a competency hearing scheduled for June 6. His public defender declined to comment.

Read the ruling here:

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