SUNBURY - A hearing will be held Feb. 5 to determine if the county is responsible to pay for a psychiatrist to determine if an accused murderer is competent to stand trial.

Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor issued an order Wednesday granting a request from Elytte Barbour's attorney, James Best, of Sunbury, to conduct the hearing, which will begin at 10:30 a.m. in courtroom 1 at Northumberland County Courthouse.

Best said Wednesday it's normal procedure to request a hearing to appoint an expert in the psychiatry field in homicide cases. He said, "We want to have a competency exam and full mental assessment done to determine what issues Mr. Barbour may have."

In light of the hearing, Barbour's pre-trial conference scheduled for Feb. 7 has been canceled.

Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini, who is prosecuting the case, said he was notified about the judge's order granting the hearing. Rosini must decide by Jan. 21 whether he'll seek the death penalty for the 22-year-old Barbour and his wife, Miranda Barbour, 19, who are charged with strangling and stabbing to death Troy LaFerrara, 42, of Port Trevorton, Nov. 11. Laferrara's body was found in a backyard in Sunbury.

The Barbours, who moved last year to Selinsgrove from North Carolina, were held for court last month by Magisterial District Judge Benjamin Apfelbaum on homicide, assault, robbery and other charges during separate preliminary hearings at Northumberland County Courthouse and are scheduled for formal arraignment Jan. 21.

The couple pleaded not guilty to the charges and plan to stand trial.

Now that the case has been moved from the magisterial level to the Court of Common Pleas, the death penalty issue must be addressed before the defendants' formal arraignment.

Rosini said there are 18 aggravating circumstances that apply to the death penalty. He said torture and the fact that LaFerrara's murder was committed during the course of another felony offense are applicable in this case.

Best and Attorney Edward Greco, who is representing Miranda Barbour, are certified to defend defendants in death-penalty cases.