UKIAH -- A jury trial to determine whether a 16-year-old Fort Bragg-area youth is competent to stand trial for murder began Tuesday in Mendocino County Superior Court.

Marcos Escareno, who was 14 years old when his sister's ex-boyfriend was shot to death, is unable to assist with his defense in a meaningful manner, according to his attorney, Katharine Elliott.

At the time of his arrest in early 2007, he was the youngest person in Sonoma or Mendocino counties to be prosecuted for murder as an adult.

But the trial is not only about how his youth affects his ability to participate in his defense. Escareno's verbal intelligence is almost 30 points below average, making it difficult for him to communicate and to understand information, Santa Rosa-based psychologist Laura Doty testified Tuesday.

While interviewing Escareno earlier this month, Doty said she was surprised by how little he could recall moments after a conversation during which he had nodded and appeared to be listening.

"It was as though (the information) had evaporated," she said.

Escareno, who has been in special education programs at school since he was 6, is easily distracted and seldom finishes a sentence, Doty said.

He also had been evaluated by school psychologists several times because of unspecified behavior issues.

Doty said Escareno was abused when he was younger and suffers from symptoms similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. Escareno had been placed in foster care for several years because of the abuse, she said.

Escareno's mother has a history of substance abuse, and the boy has admitted to using marijuana and alcohol when he was 10 years old, she said.

The trial continues today and is expected to last at least through the end of the week.

Elliott said she is unsure of what will happen if Escareno is found incompetent, because she was unable to find any other cases of competency trials being held for juveniles being tried in adult courts.

An adult would be sent to an institution where attempts would be made to teach the basics about the court system and how to assist with their defense.

If Escareno is found to be competent, his trial in the killing of Enoc Cruz, 21, will proceed.

Cruz was shot three times while in the driveway of Escareno's sister's home on the Manchester Indian reservation in February 2007.

Escareno reportedly believed Cruz meant to harm his sister.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or