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David Lewis accused killer pleads 'not guilty'

Gregory Elarms to face trial after court ruled he is now competent

The man accused of murdering East Palo Alto community activist David Lewis in 2010 pleaded not guilty to murder on Friday morning, Sept. 7 and refused to waive his right to a speedy trial, the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office said.

Gregory Elarms, 60, is charged with murdering Lewis after lying in wait and fatally shooting him once in the stomach in the parking lot at Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo June 9, 2010.

Lewis was a well-known social activist who turned his life around and helped found the Free At Last drug-rehabilitation program in East Palo Alto. He helped create a groundbreaking parolee reentry program in the city that has surpassed San Mateo County's program in keeping former prisoners from returning to crime.

Elarms, a childhood friend of Lewis, contacted San Mateo investigators claiming to have a tip about the unsolved case about six months after the crime. He allegedly confessed to killing Lewis during questioning, even describing the shocked look on Lewis' face after he shot him, San Mateo police Det. Rick Decker testified at Elarms' preliminary hearing.

Elarms pleaded not guilty in January 2011, but San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Mark Forcum ruled that he was not competent to stand trial. Forcum ordered Elarms hospitalized on July 7, 2011, until he was restored to competence. The court later authorized the hospital to involuntarily medicate Elarms for his psychiatric condition if needed.

Atascadero State Hospital doctors in May found Elarms is now competent to stand trial. Judge Lisa Novak ruled on Aug. 22 that he is now competent with the aid of psychotropic medications.

Elarms told the court he wanted to fire his attorney, Jonathan McDougall, who had argued in August that Elarms was still not mentally competent. The court will hold a hearing on Sept. 14 regarding his request. His refusal to waive his right to a speedy trial means that prosecutors and his defense attorney will have to prepare for trial by Oct. 29, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Karen Guidotti.

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