MIDDLETON — A Lynn man whose young son disappeared during a weekend visit in 2008 is now competent to stand trial, doctors at Bridgewater State Hospital have concluded. 

The development comes nearly three years after charges of parental kidnapping and obstruction of justice were dropped against Ernesto Gonzalez, 44, in the disappearance of 5-year-old Giovanni Gonzalez. 

The elder Gonzalez appeared Monday in Salem Superior Court for a brief hearing before Judge Thomas Drechsler, who read from a letter that Bridgewater staff sent with Gonzalez to court. 

The letter went on to suggest Gonzalez should still remain in a secure setting, however, the judge said. 

Drechsler said he will wait to hear from a defense expert who is also evaluating Gonzalez before making a final determination of competency. 

Gonzalez has remained in custody, still facing aggravated assault and battery charges based on a 2011 incident in which he allegedly slammed the face of his 56-year-old Middleton Jail cellmate into a metal sink. The other inmate sustained several broken bones in his face, as well as a serious eye injury that required surgery to repair.

Gonzalez is also civilly committed to Bridgewater State Hospital at least through next March. 

Though he had allegedly confessed to a Boston newspaper reporter in 2009 that he'd killed his son, prosecutors were never able to find any evidence to corroborate that account and Gonzalez was never charged with killing the boy. 

In 2013, with Gonzalez still considered incompetent to stand trial, a Salem Superior Court judge dismissed the kidnapping and obstruction of justice charges because Gonzalez had already spent half the time he potentially faced in prison, if found guilty, in custody awaiting trial. 

The charges in the jail assault remained in place because he had not reached that milestone in that more recent case. 

Now, he is scheduled tentatively to stand trial in that assault next May. 

A psychologist hired by the defense is in the process of examining Gonzalez to determine if he was legally insane at the time of the jail incident, his attorney told Drechsler during Monday's hearing. 

Prosecutors would then have a chance to have Gonzalez examined by their own expert before trial. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.

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