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Joe Watson, Alleged "Salon Bandit" and Former Local Reporter, Incompetent to Stand Trial

From award-winning reporter to street criminal to incarcerated basket case.

That's been the arc of Joe Watson's life in two years.

The former writer for New Times and other local publications has been in the hoosegow since April 2007 for allegedly terrorizing women during armed robberies of tanning salons. He's awaiting trial on several serious charges that will likely put him behind bars for most of his life. And he's apparently checked out, mentally.

Two months ago, a judge found Watson was "unable to understand the nature of the proceedings" and unable to assist in his defense. The judge ordered Watson incompetent to stand trial and ordered Magellan Health Services, the state's mental health care provider, to evaluate him for treatment.

Watson is expected in court on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. for a hearing related to the finding, during which Magellan will report on Watson's abilities and treatment potential.

None of this means Watson is escaping justice -- the judge, Brian Rees, also found Watson is a "threat to public safety" and must remain confined. A report to the court Magellan was asked to submit this week will assess when Watson might recover, and what kinds of treatment will be used to help him. Rees ordered the mental health report sealed.

Maybe the long stay in jail put Watson over the edge, or maybe his mental health problems are what caused him to commit his alleged crimes. Either way, the Joe Watson that many in this town knew from his professional life seems to be just... gone.

Unless he's faking it. -- Ray Stern

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.