By Hilary Corrigan
Triplicate staff writer
A court date for Vera Inez Rehfeld to enter a plea to the murder charge that she faces was rescheduled Tuesday to give a psychologist time to evaluate the 79-year-old woman's mental state.
Crescent City Police arrested Rehfeld last month in connection with a stabbing death earlier this year. Police found the body of Rehfeld's roomate, 42-year-old James Earl McElroy, in her home at Pacific Terrace Manor off U.S. Hwy. 101 behind Shooters Billiards on Jan. 29.
McElroy had suffered stab wounds to the back of his neck and his torso and had died on Jan. 26.
Rehfeld has remained at Del Norte County Jail since her arrest last month. At defense attorney Rick McClendon's request on Tuesday, Judge William Follett bumped Rehfeld's court date to May 14 at 1 p.m.
After entering a plea, a preliminary hearing would take place within two weeks to give prosecutors a chance to argue that a crime occurred, and that Rehfeld could be responsible. McClendon aimed to get answers on Rehfeld's mental abilities before that hearing and a jury trial that could follow.
"I want to make sure she's mentally healthy enough to partcipate," McClendon said.
Sitting in a wheelchair and wearing an orange jumpsuit and sandals, Rehfeld clasped and unclasped her hands during Tuesday's proceedings, then complained of health problems and conditions at the jail.
"I'm gonna have a nervous breakdown," Rehfeld said.
Rehfeld has trouble walking, suffers from dizzy spells and could fall on the concrete jail floors, McClendon said. He planned to talk to jail officials about moving her to a convalescent hospital.
Deputy District Attorney Ben McLaughlin noted his visit to Rehfeld's home before her arrest.
"She walked around fine," he said.
McClendon plans to collect more information on the case before commenting on a defense strategy. But he doubted Rehfeld's role in the death of McElroy, a San Quentin State Prison parolee who stood about 5'7, weighed about 125 pounds and remained partially paralyzed from a construction accident.
"Not from the evidence I see," McClendon said, noting a lack of motive. "She's 79 years old and has no (criminal) history, other than traffic tickets."