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Man accused of killing community leader to trial
August 23, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

Gregory Elarms

David Lewis

The childhood friend accused of gunning down an East Palo Alto activist at a San Mateo shopping center in 2010 is now competent for trial on murder and gun charges after a brief stay at a state mental facility, a judge ruled yesterday.

After the defense for Gregory Elarms and the prosecution submitted doctor reports, Judge Lisa Novak declared the 60-year-old restored to competency and reinstated criminal proceedings.

Elarms was sent to Atascadero State Hospital in August 2011. Yesterday’s ruling restarts the criminal case which had slowed since Elarms’ return from Atascadero in May after defense attorney Jonathan McDougall, appointed to replace his previous attorney, disputed the doctors’ conclusions. Elarms also tried unsuccessfully to fire McDougall.

McDougall and prosecutor Al Giannini were expected to call doctors to the witness stand but instead let Novak rule based on the reports and letters from Elarms to McDougall.

Elarms refused to speak with the defense doctor whose report mainly criticized Atascadero and did not include any analysis of the defendant, Giannini said.

The defense has the burden to show Elarms is not competent and, Giannini said, without a report proving otherwise, "there didn’t seem a lot of point to spend time calling witnesses.”

A Superior Court plea and trial date will be entered Sept. 17.

Elarms faces life in prison without parole on charges of first-degree murder and gun use plus the special allegation of lying in wait for the June 9, 2010 death of East Palo Alto activist David Lewis. Before criminal proceedings were halted by the competency question, prosecutors decided not to seek death. His mental history was a primary reason as was the predominance of drug offenses on his extensive criminal record.

Elarms, of the East Bay city of Pittsburg, is accused of following Lewis, 54, from the San Mateo Medical Center where he was an outreach worker to the parking lot of Hillsdale Shopping Center on June 9, 2010. Just before 6 p.m., Elarms allegedly pulled a .44-caliber gun and shot Lewis in the torso.

During a preliminary hearing on the murder and gun charges, a San Mateo police detective testified that Elarms believed gangmembers were after him and that Lewis, once his friend, was now his opponent. Lewis uttered the name "Greg” before dying but police made no arrests until contacted by Elarms six months after the shooting.

Lewis was known as a community activist and rehabilitation counselor who overcame addiction and incarceration.

Elarms remains in custody without bail.

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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