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Murder case centers on suspect's competency

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Psychological competency remains the key issue for a Lawrenceville man accused of kicking an acquaintance to death in 2007 and leaving his body in a ditch.

A jury trial is slated next week to determine if Flavio Pena is competent to stand trial on murder and aggravated assault charges, court officials said Thursday.

Pena is charged in the November 2007 fatal beating of David Cruz, 22. Authorities believe Pena kicked the victim to death during a drunken, roadside brawl on Arnold Road near U.S. Highway 29, where Cruz's body was found in a ditch the next day.

The case has pained prosecutors before. On the eve of his murder trial in March 2009, a judge granted Pena's defense last-minute permission for a psychological evaluation, overruling an objection by the state. Some 25 witnesses were subpoenaed and ready to testify in that trial, prosecutors said then.

Assistant District Attorney Tracie Cason, who is prosecuting, was tight-lipped Thursday as to the route the case has taken since the 2009 continuation.

Defense attorney Norman H. Cuadra did not return a call for comment.

A third man involved in the brawl, Mario Palomo-Lopez, was charged with disorderly conduct but was cleared in the slaying, police said in 2008.

Pena, formerly a construction worker, has been jailed without bond since the day Cruz died nearly four years ago. Jail officials have more recently placed a detainer on him for federal immigration authorities.