Rode incompetent to stand trial

Michael Rode

TRAVERSE CITY — It likely will be months before Michael Rode again steps into a courtroom.

A state forensic psychologist recently found Rode, 51, of Traverse City, not currently competent to stand trial in the violent June 6 slaying of his wife, Sandra Rode. That finding prompted 86th District Court Judge Michael Stepka on Wednesday to sign a competency order that will send Rode to a forensic center for treatment.

Rode's attorney Janet Mistele said she expected the decision, given what she's seen of Rode's mental state.

"I'm not surprised in the least that he's been found incompetent," she said.

The order delays Rode's potential trial on charges of murder, assault by strangulation, and two counts of assault with dangerous weapons. Rode is accused of choking Sandra Rode, striking her with a frying pan and stabbing her with a knife in their Tradewinds Terrace apartment after the couple argued over an unpaid bill.

Court proceedings largely have been on hold after Mistele filed a notice of her intent to pursue an insanity defense. The notice prompted a specialist to conduct a competency evaluation on Rode to see if he'd be able to assist in his defense.

The finding — currently not fit to stand trial — came out Wednesday during a brief competency hearing through which Rode sat in silence. But Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney said that finding doesn't mean the case is closed.

"I don't think it means by any means that he will not be restored to competency," Cooney said. "It happens from time to time, and people are restored to competency by administration of therapy or medication, or both."

State law requires forensic psychiatrists to give reports to Stepka every 90 days on Rode's mental state. It also imposes a 15-month limit to restore competency.

Cooney said court proceedings would restart once Rode is declared fit to stand trial.

That declaration would clear a path for Rode to take a criminal responsibility evaluation delving into his state of mind during the June 6 incident. The results of that evaluation could have a bearing on whether Rode can mount a insanity defense or plea, which carries a high legal standard.

Cooney said Rode's current mental state is a separate question from what it was when the incident occurred.

"The question is whether they understood the wrongfulness of their conduct," Cooney said.

Mistele said Rode remembers what happened, but she declined further comment beyond that it took a toll on Rode. Officers at Grand Traverse County's jail recently put Rode into isolation after he attempted to harm himself, she said.