NAPLES — Public defenders will continue to work Mesac Damas’ death penalty case after a judge on Friday denied Damas’ request to represent himself on six first-degree homicide charges.
Addressing Damas request of self-representation, Collier Circuit Judge Franklin Baker said Friday he was “not close to being confident” that Damas understands the seriousness of his request.
“You’ve got two good lawyers. I want to keep them involved in your case,” Baker said.
When Baker repeatedly asked why Damas wanted to represent himself, Damas responded only with religious preaching. He told Baker that “God is my lawyer” and “I don’t have a case.”
Midway through the 10-minute hearing, Damas was briefly removed from the courtroom for interrupting Baker. He returned and continued to interrupt Baker, refusing to directly address Baker’s questions.
“We’re a long ways from answering any questions I had,” Baker said.
Damas was deemed competent two weeks ago to stand trial on the six homicide charges. He is accused of killing his 32-year-old wife, Guerline, and the couple’s five children in 2009 at the family’s North Naples home.
During his extradition from Haiti, Damas confessed to a Daily News reporter that he was responsible for the killings. Damas’ attorneys filed a not guilty plea in the case.
Defendants are allowed to represent themselves, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled a judge can deny that right in cases of defendants “who still suffer from severe mental illness to the point where they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings by themselves.”
Damas’ mental health has been questioned since his arrest. He has been disruptive in court and frequently responds to questions by speaking about his religious beliefs.
Two of the three psychiatrists who evaluated Damas said the 35-year-old understands the homicide charges and is capable of helping his lawyers but chooses not to. A third psychiatrist said Damas suffers from a “delusional disorder” and isn’t competent to stand trial.
One of Damas’ public defenders, Kathleen Fitzgeorge, declined comment when asked Friday whether Damas has cooperated with his lawyers.
State Attorney Steve Russell also declined comment after Baker’s ruling.
No future hearing dates were set Friday and a trial date remains undecided.
DAMAS FAMILY KILLINGS COVERAGE
ONE YEAR LATER:
- Year after slayings of Guerline Damas, five kids, relatives ask ‘did it really, really happen?’
- Confessed killer Mesac Damas wants to die, so should court system let him?
- Damas family slayings: Year later, still haunting lives of friends, family, deputies
- Jail phone call: Accused killer Mesac Damas talks to father about his slain family, Satan and adultery
MESAC DAMAS CONFESSION VIDEO:
DAILY NEWS STAFF JOURNALISTS TALK ABOUT THE CASE:
- THE FIELD: Naples Daily News staff writer describes how he obtained an interview with Mesac Damas
- THE FIELD: Visual Journalist Greg Kahn discusses being the first journalist at the Damas crime scene, and other observations from the field.
- THE FIELD: Staff Writer Steven Beardsley answers questions about his interview with Mesac Damas