EASTON, Pa. | The man accused of twice trying to burn down his former church will undergo mental health treatment until, or if, he can be deemed competent to stand trial.
Wilmer J. Ortiz Torres has been deemed incompetent to stand trial for allegedly setting a pair of April 2019 fires at Iglesia Pentecostal De Bethlehem Church in the 1000 block of Pembroke Road. He faces felony counts of arson, burglary and criminal trespass.
On Wednesday, Northampton County Judge Anthony Beltrami signed an order transferring Ortiz Torres to a secure mental health facility, where he will undergo treatment and periodic evaluations. Deputy District Attorney Jim Augustine said Ortiz Torres will remain in the mental health facility until he’s deemed competent.
He noted it’s possible that Ortiz Torres may never be deemed competent to stand trial.
For now, the criminal case is unaffected by the order transferring the defendant. Ortiz Torres’s transfer essentially stops the clock on the prosecution, according to Augustine.
The judge changed Ortiz Torres’s bail to $100,000 unsecured to facilitate the transfer. A mental health evaluation will be completed in October 2021 and every 12 months thereafter to determine his competency to stand trial.
Shortly after Ortiz Torres’s arrest, his sister, Irma Rivera, contacted WFMZ 69News to indicate that her brother suffered from mental illness for some time, including depression, schizophrenia and chronic anxiety. She claimed their father mistreated the children both mentally and physically.
The first fire was reported shortly after midnight on April 23, 2019. Emergency personnel arrived to find smoke coming from the building; the fire burned itself out before firefighters arrived. Police said they found a front window broken and a back door partially open, according to court records.
Firefighters responded to the church two days later shortly after 2 a.m. for reports of a second fire that started on the church's roof. Police said the arson dog detected accelerants in each case.
Investigators said they managed to identify the now 45-year-old through video surveillance of the second fire he's accused of setting on the roof and surveillance from a nearby gas station, where he was spotted before the fire.