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Judge orders further mental evaluation of Rohnert Park hit-run suspect

An initial evaluation reviewed in private during a court hearing Friday suggested Robert E. Cowart is mentally competent to help defend himself against charges stemming from the hit-and-run death of a Sonoma State University professor.

But Judge Gary A. Medvigy ordered a more formal evaluation to address the enduring concerns of Cowart's attorneys that the Rohnert Park man may not fully understand his situation.

Cowart, 68, is charged with felony hit-and-run in the June 8 collision that killed just-retired SSU Professor Steve Norwick, who was on his weekly bike ride to breakfast in Penngrove when he was struck on Petaluma Hill Road and fatally injured.

Norwick, 68, died 11 1/2 days later.

Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said her staff had not been privy to any reports or communication supporting the defense's contention that Cowart is not fit for prosecution.

"We have nothing to suggest he is not OK to go forward with the case," Ravitch said in a phone interview Friday.

Cowart, who uses a wheelchair around the courthouse, has seemed disoriented at times during court proceedings and appears to have left discussions about his case in the hands of family members and attorneys.

In his first court appearance, his lawyer told a judge Cowart had an aneurysm that might impede blood flow to his brain and had suffered a stroke — though it was unclear when.

His family and attorneys have since refused to comment about the case or further explain Cowart's condition or his ability to drive the day of the crash.

In addition to his medical problems, Cowart had three prior drunken driving convictions, though his attorney said in court that he no longer drinks.


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