GREENFIELD — An attorney for a 79-year-old man accused of molesting neighbor girls who helped him with housework told a judge he’s worried the defendant does not understand the criminal case against him.

Jon Keyes of Greenfield has asked a judge to hire medical professionals to evaluate Robert Cooper, 256 Lullaby Court, Greenfield, who faces three Level 4 felony counts of child molest.

Police say Cooper inappropriately touched three elementary school-age girls when they occasionally visited his home, according to court documents.

Cooper’s family members told investigators the man has dementia, though they believed he understood his actions were wrong, court documents state.

Keyes, who was appointed to serve as Cooper’s public defender after he was arrested in August, penned the request for an evaluation to determine whether his client is competent, telling Hancock Circuit Court Judge Richard Culver he believes Cooper lacks “ability to understand the proceedings and assist in the preparation of a defense,” according to court records.

Keyes told the judge he is negotiating a plea agreement with prosecutors to resolve Cooper’s case, but he wants to “ensure the defendant is competent before a plea is entered into,” records state.

Culver, in accepting the request, has appointed two forensic psychiatrists to conduct Cooper’s evaluation. Both doctors will meet with the man in the coming weeks and submit separate reports. A hearing on the matter is set for March 9, court records show.

Police began investigating Cooper after the victims’ families called 911 to report the girls’ accusations, charging documents state.

The victims told police that each time Cooper touched them, they were working in his yard, court documents state. The girls told police they never went inside Cooper’s house.

One girl told investigators she’d been riding her bike near Cooper’s house one afternoon when the man cat-called at her, saying “he liked her in those shorts” and asking if she was wearing underwear, court documents state.

Another girl said Cooper once took her behind the barn on his property and assaulted her, right after thanking her for the work she’d done for him, court documents state.

Cooper once told one of the victims, “You better not tell anybody that this happened; this is our little secret, or I’ll come get you,” court documents state.

Each of the Level 4 felony counts Cooper faces carried a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison.

Cooper is being held in the Hancock County Jail on a $1,000 cash bond.

A judge ordered the defendant’s release is contingent on Cooper’s family finding an adult care facility where he can live while his criminal case plays out in court; even if Cooper posts bail, he most remain in the jail until a suitable placement has been found for him, records show.

Cooper’s family told police they were looking for a place that would provide 24-hour assistance to Cooper and keep him away from children, court records show.

Keyes did not return a request for comment; prosecutors declined to comment.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.