Dec. 14, 2022 — A Florence man accused of murdering 27-year-old Florence resident Joseph Holtsberry was found unfit to assist in his own defense last week, resulting in a three-year maximum period in the Oregon State Hospital, according to Lane County court documents.
The case against Pouwel James Veenstra, 50, currently lists its status as “pending fitness to proceed.”
Veenstra is being charged with second-degree murder and “unlawfully and intentionally” causing the death of Holtsberry on Nov. 7, when officers from the Florence Police Department responded to a possible dispute on Hemlock Drive. Upon arrival, they discovered Holtsberry lying in the front yard of the residence as a subject ran into the house. Holtsberry, who was unconscious but breathing, was suffering from a significant head injury. Medical responders life-flighted Holtsberry to RiverBend Hospital in Springfield, but he passed away in transport.
When police searched the Hemlock home and immediate area, they found Veenstra hiding in some brush. Veenstra was subsequently charged, following an investigation.
Court documents did not describe the event in more detail, nor motive.
Veenstra did not appear during a Dec. 7 court hearing, where his court-appointed public defender filed a motion on his behalf.
“I am familiar with Mr. Veenstra from prior charges. I know that he has a serious mental health disorder,” the public defender wrote. “When I have visited with Mr. Veenstra, it is apparent he is experiencing symptoms of that disorder. I do not believe he is able to assist in his own defense.”
The public defender stated that a doctor had also met with Veenstra and confirmed that “Veenstra is suffering from a qualifying mental disorder.”
The court agreed, finding that Veenstra, “…Requires hospital-level-of-care due to: (a) public safety concerns; or (b) the acuity of symptoms of Defendant’s qualifying mental disorder; and (c) that the appropriate community restoration services are not present and available in the community.”
He will be held for a maximum period of time, not to exceed three years. If found fit, a trial could proceed.
According to social media posts by Veenstra, he had suffered from mental illness his entire life, along with drug addiction and multiple periods of homelessness.
“After being put on ritalin [sic] at the age of 5 and continually being told your crazy and put on meds,” he wrote on a Facebook post on Sept. 12, 2018. “Getting off meds finding comfort in alcohol and drugs. I stayed numbed till December 31. After falling down in March I’ve been sober. And hearing stuff. I thought it stopped after getting off all meds the year prior. Methadone adderall meth. To say this is actually the first time since I was a child that I’m not on anything and hearing s**t is uncomfortable. My head’s not right, my heart’s got issues and at least my body works on occasion. Yes I have messed up my life by my choice.”
Since Nov. 7, Siuslaw News has been looking into Veenstra’s life, as well as the life of Holtsberry. Additional information will be released in future editions. Anyone who has information on either of their pasts that could lead to a better understanding of their lives, or what led to the homicide, contact the community reporter at [email protected]