A man accused of fatally shooting a police officer in Tuscaloosa almost four years ago has been declared competent enough for his capital murder trial, which is expected to begin sometime later this year.

23-year-old Luther Bernard Watkins, Jr. was only 20 when he allegedly shot and killed TPD Investigator Dornell Cousette in September 2019.

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Cousette and a local bail bondsman were serving outstanding arrest warrants on Watkins at a home in West Tuscaloosa when the officer and the wanted man exchanged gunfire.

Watkins was struck twice, but one of his bullets mortally wounded Cousette, who died that night, Monday, September 16, 2019.

A massive manhunt ensued in Tuscaloosa immediately after the shooting, and Watkins was eventually located and arrested. He was placed in the Tuscaloosa County Jail wearing the handcuffs Cousette used to carry upon his release from an area hospital where he had received treatment for his own gunshot wounds.

Watkins was charged with the capital murder of a police officer and has been jailed without bond since his arrest. Prosecutors have said they intend to seek the death penalty.

His time in jail and legal defense have been eventful -- he is facing new charges for allegedly trying to bribe a detention officer, he has requested and was denied a change of venue for the trial, he has asked for an outside evaluation of his competency to stand trial and, most recently, filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming Cousette opened fire on Watkins first, and that he returned fire in self-defense. 

On Thursday, new court documents were filed saying that Watkins has been assessed by an outside certified forensic examiner appointed by the Alabama Department of Mental Health and found competent to stand trial.

"These criminal proceedings shall continue without unnecessary delay," Circuit Judge Bradley Almond wrote in an order signed Wednesday.

Watkins and his legal team have 14 days to object to the competency finding.

The next order of business in the case will be to address Watkin's motion for immunity based on self-defense, after which a jury trial could soon follow.

For updates on this case as they become available, stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread.

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