SUNBURY - A county judge will decide if it's necessary for a Shamokin man charged with setting three fires to undergo an incompetency examination.

During a brief hearing Thursday before Judge William H. Wiest, county conflicts counsel John Broda claimed his client James L. Neidlinger Jr., 22, should be granted the exam by a psychiatrist because he has doubts whether the defendant knows the difference between right and wrong.

Broda said it's important to determine if Neidlinger is competent to enter a guilty plea or face trial.

Neidlinger, who has been incarcerated since Jan. 29 at Northumberland County Prison in lieu of $250,000 cash bail, testified that he was previously diagnosed by a local doctor as being bipolar. The defendant, who was slow in responding to questions posed by Broda and Assistant District Attorney Michael Toomey, told the judge he receives supplemental security income (SSI) and disability payments.

He said he has suffered from depression, but is not currently taking any medication.

Neidlinger said he has not had any steady employment since graduating from Shamokin Area High School in 2010 and had lived with his parents, who supported him financially.

He recalled being in juvenile court at one time, but didn't remember the offense.

Broda said his client has problems understanding simple questions, which he believes warrants the exam.

In his application, Broda states, "Defense counsel is of the opinion that an examination of the defendant for the purposes of determining competency and criminal responsibility must be requested for effective representation in these proceedings."

Toomey argued that Broda failed to present enough evidence for the judge to authorize the exam, which would be paid by the commonwealth.

Wiest said he will rule soon.

Neidlinger is charged by Shamokin Patrolman and Fire Investigator Raymond Siko II with intentionally setting fires at 717 N. Shamokin St. on Sept. 5, the former Hardshell Cafe and an adjacent building in the 400 block of North Shamokin Street on Jan. 24, and a triple home in the 600 block of East Sunbury Street near Franklin Street on Jan. 28.