Suspect in North Berkeley homicide has criminal record, history of mental illness

Daniel Dewitt was ruled mentally incompetent Thursday.

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Daniel Dewitt, who has been arrested on suspicion of murdering a man in North Berkeley this weekend, has a criminal past and a history of mental illness, documents show.

On Saturday at about 8:45 p.m., the Berkeley Police Department received a call reporting a suspicious person possibly trespassing near the garage of the caller’s Shasta Road and Grizzly Peak Boulevard home, according to police.

Soon after, the department received a call about an attack in progress, to which officers were immediately dispatched, according to Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan. Officers found that the victim was 67-year-old Peter Myron Cukor, who was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Within 15 minutes of the incident, a man — later identified as Dewitt — matching the suspect’s description was found less than a block from the crime scene and was arrested by police.

This weekend’s alleged killing is the most recent in a long line of allegations against Dewitt.

In December 2010, Dewitt, a 23-year old Alameda resident, was accused of battery against a nurse at the John George Psychiatric Pavilion, where he was then staying, according to Alameda County court documents.

According to police reports, the nurse witnessed Dewitt yelling into a cellphone and was told by a doctor to administer medication to him. When she approached Dewitt, he allegedly punched her, causing her to fall. Dewitt then stomped on the nurse with his foot until surrounding nurses could detain him, according to the reports.

Dewitt was slated to appear in court on March 6, 2012 for the alleged battery.

A few months prior, Dewitt was accused of placing annoying calls, according to the court documents. He was later sentenced to three years of court probation, 20 counseling sessions and a protective order requiring that he stay at least 100 yards away from the woman to whom the calls were made.

To assist in the investigation, Dewitt’s mother Candy Dewitt photographed disturbing text messages from her son’s phone and handed them over to the police, according to the police reports.

Candy Dewitt said she believed there was something mentally wrong with her son even before these charges, according to the Oakland Tribune.

“I have tried to write letters to judges, to victims’ rights advocates, to prosecutors and begged and pleaded for them to help my son,” she told the Tribune. “But there was no help. It is a system where these people just go in and out, in and out.”

Candy Dewitt told the Tribune she continually tried to commit her son to long-term psychiatric care after he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age 18. However, according to Dewitt, her son was continually forced out of care after he took his medication and started acting rationally.

Dewitt’s court date for the alleged battery was postponed multiple times because he was staying at John George Psychiatric Pavilion and Gladman Psychiatric Health Facility, according to the court documents.

Dewitt is set for an arraignment at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland. The homicide of which he has been accused — which is the city’s second so far this year — has rattled the Berkeley Hills community.

“Having someone attacked in such a physical way — it’s shocking,” said Carolyn Reynolds, a longtime resident of the North Berkeley Hills. “All the neighbors I’ve talked to are in shock — we feel so sad for the family. Even though it may not seem so because it’s really green and quiet, we’re part of the urban environment.”

There was only one homicide reported in Berkeley in 2011.

Staff writers Sara Khan and Oksana Yurovsky contributed to this report.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article’s headline incorrectly referred to Daniel Dewitt as the suspect in a murder. In fact, it is an alleged murder.