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Judge weighs whether Allen Stanford fit for trial

By Eileen O'Grady

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A prison psychologist who evaluated accused swindler Allen Stanford testified on Tuesday that it would be "incredibly rare" for a patient to suffer from the type of delayed memory loss the Texas financier says makes him incompetent to stand trial.

The psychologist testified for the government at the start of a mental competency hearing in Houston that will decide if Stanford's criminal trial can go forward next month.

Lawyers for Stanford, who is accused of running a $7 billion Ponzi scheme, have argued he is incompetent due to an addiction to anti-anxiety medication and a brain injury suffered in a 2009 jailhouse fight with another inmate.

Stanford claims he suffers from retrograde amnesia, which prevents him from recalling key events from his life prior to the 2009 fight. His lawyers plan to call several medical experts to testify about his condition.

Prosecutors, on the other hand, say Stanford may have faked memory loss and there is no evidence to support his claims. They want his trial to go forward as scheduled on January 23.

The amnesia that Stanford has described "is incredibly rare. There is hardly any documented medical research," Dr. Robert Cochrane, the staff psychologist at a federal prison in North Carolina who evaluated Stanford, testified at the start of Tuesday's hearing in U.S. District Court in Houston.

Stanford, who has been in custody since his June 2009 arrest, entered the courtroom on Tuesday in handcuffs and leg shackles. Clad in a drab green jumpsuit, the 61-year-old sat rocking back and forth quietly at the defense table while waiting for the hearing to start.

The financier, who once owned luxury homes in the Caribbean, Houston and Miami, has been indicted on charges of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. He has pleaded not guilty.

He is accused of running a Ponzi scheme through the Stanford Financial Group involving the sale of fraudulent certificates of deposit issued by his offshore bank in Antigua. The scheme, prosecutors say, bilked investors throughout the United States and Latin America.

In November, Stanford completed more than eight months of treatment at the Butner prison hospital in North Carolina.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who is overseeing the competency hearing, ruled at the start of Tuesday's proceedings that only medical and mental health professionals could testify.

Stanford's attorneys had been planning to call his former attorney Dick DeGuerin and the financier's 81-year-old mother, Sammie.

Hittner ordered Stanford's treatment last January after he determined that Stanford at that time was not able to assist in his defense.

The case is U.S. v. Stanford, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas. No. 09-00342.

(Reporting by Eileen O'Grady in Houston; editing by Martha Graybow and Andre Grenon)

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