Howard Forrest Lowe after his March arrest in Rancho Penasquitos.
Howard Forrest Lowe after his March arrest in Rancho Penasquitos. Photo via OnScene TV

A mental competency examination was ordered Wednesday for a man charged in the stabbing death of his 72-year-old former Rancho Peñasquitos neighbor, who had helped the defendant find work and given him a car to drive.

Judge Michael Smyth suspended criminal proceedings against 54-year-old Howard Forrest Lowe after Lowe’s attorney said he doubted the defendant’s ability to understand the charges and assist him at trial.

Lowe faces 26 years to life in prison if convicted of the March 29 murder of Richard Munsinger. A competency hearing was set for Dec. 19.

Munsinger’s wife, Joann, testified during a preliminary hearing last month that Lowe had lived in a house across the street in the 9500 block of High Park Lane for more than five years, but moved out three to four weeks before a fire in the residence.

The witness said she and her husband gave the defendant odd jobs, bought food for his dog, and considered him part of the family.

At one point, Richard Munsinger gave Lowe a Volvo to drive to help him find work, but the defendant crashed the car and when it couldn’t pass a smog test, the victim took it back, Deputy District Attorney Jihan Maloney said.

Thomas Sandoval, who was working for a construction company cleaning out Lowe’s former home the day of the killing, testified that he heard a co-worker screaming about 2 p.m. and ran across the street, where he saw Lowe sitting on top of the victim in the garage and swinging his arm toward Munsinger in a stabbing motion.

Sandoval said he told the defendant to stop, but got no response.

The witness said he raised his voice and said, “Stop what you are doing!”

Lowe responded, “He (the victim) raped me,” before continuing the attack, Sandoval testified.

The witness said Lowe walked back to his former residence, grabbed a bottle of water and washed the blood off his forearms. It was at that point that Sandoval said he saw Lowe with a knife.

As Sandoval and his co-workers prepared to drive away, Lowe looked into their work truck and repeated, “He (the victim) raped me,” the witness testified.

Medics took Munsinger to a hospital, where he died. Doctors counted 33 stab wounds, the prosecutor said.

Lowe had a knife on him when he was arrested about 400 yards away a short time after the attack, Maloney said.

Despite defense claims that Lowe was “out of it” when he attacked Munsinger, Judge Laura Birkmeyer said the stabbing was “deliberate” and that the defendant was responsive during the attack and afterward when he cleaned the blood off his body.

— City News Service