updated 10/24/2007 10:03:59 PM ET 2007-10-25T02:03:59

An ex-convict accused of raping, torturing and burning a Columbia University graduate student is mentally fit to stand trial, a judge said Wednesday.

State Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman declared Robert Williams fit after his lawyer said the defense's own psychiatrist could not report a finding that Williams was too mentally ill for trial.

To be considered mentally fit, a defendant must understand the nature and consequences of his action, understand the charges against him and be able to assist in his own defense.

Defense lawyer Arnold Levine said Williams, 30, has a documented history of mental illness and hospitalizations, but two court-appointed psychiatrists as well as one for the defense found him fit for trial.

Levine said he might still pursue a defense that Williams was impaired by mental disease or defect at the time of the crime.

Allegedly slit student's eyelids
Williams, who served eight years for attempted murder, is accused of sneaking into the 23-year-old student's building the night of April 13 and forcing his way into her apartment.

For about 19 hours, prosecutors said, Williams raped the woman on her futon bed, tied her up with computer cables and used a knife to slit her eyelids.

Police said Williams forced her to swallow large doses of over-the-counter pain medicine as a sedative, which damaged her liver, and he inflicted burns by dousing her with bleach and scalding water in an attempt to destroy DNA evidence.

Williams tried to burn the young woman alive before he left, prosecutors said. He was arrested a few days later.

Williams has pleaded not guilty to charges in the 71-count indictment that include kidnapping, arson, burglary and predatory sexual assault. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Berkman noted that prosecutors reported DNA evidence was recovered.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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