Judge rules Mesac Damas competent to proceed in death penalty case

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Mesac Damas is competent to proceed in his death penalty case, a Collier Circuit judge ruled on Thursday.

The decision means Damas’ case will not immediately be delayed by treatment. Damas faces charges that he killed his wife and five children, Judge Franklin Baker issued the five-page order on Thursday, one week after three doctors testified about evaluations they conducted on the defendant.

Competency is the legal definition of a defendant’s ability to understand and participate in a court case at any one time. Questions of mental illness have surrounded Damas’ case since his 2009 arrest and through frequent court outbursts.

During last week’s competency hearing, two out of three doctors testified that Damas understood the charges against him and was capable of helping his attorneys, but that he chose not to.

In his order, Baker wrote that he found the two doctors’ testimony more compelling than a third doctor, who diagnosed Damas with “delusional disorder” and deemed him incompetent. Baker said his decision also stems from his own observations of Damas in court.

“More specifically, the Court finds that Defendant has the ability, if he so chooses, to cooperate with his lawyers and to manifest appropriate courtroom behavior,” the order stated. “If he chooses not to do so, he does so at his peril.”

A new status hearing is expected to be set in the case shortly.

Damas faces possible execution by the state if convicted of any of six charges of first-degree murder. The bodies of his wife, Guerline, 32, and the couple’s five children were discovered in the family’s North Naples home in September 2009, their throats cut.

The children were Zack, 9; Maven, 6; Marven, 5; Megan, 3; and Morgan, 19 months.

A spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office lauded Baker’s decision.

“With the judge’s ruling, we can now proceed more efficiently as we work towards a trial,” Samantha Syoen wrote in an email statement.

Neil McLoughlin, one of Damas’ three public defenders, said the decision speaks for itself.

“What’s there to say? Especially in death penalty cases, you always are concerned about your client’s mental health,” he said. “And let’s be honest, he exhibits bizarre behavior.”

Damas frequently speaks aloud during court hearings, invoking religion and questioning Baker’s authority. He confessed to a Daily News reporter shortly after the slayings, and he has repeatedly asked to be executed.

Two psychologists and a psychiatrist examined Damas between October 2010 and last week. Damas refused to participate in each evaluation, instead preaching at the three men.

One, psychologist Robert Silver, diagnosed Damas as bipolar after a first evaluation. After a second examination in June, he determined the defendant suffered delusions of grandiosity and was incompetent to proceed, failing to understand the charges and penalties he faced.

Psychiatrist Frederick Schaerf and psychologist Michael Herkov reached a different conclusion after their evaluations. Both consulted jail logs and medical records and decided Damas did understand the charges and penalties, based in part on his interactions with jail staff. They said he was capable of helping his attorneys but chose not to do so.

Baker noted the distinction between a defendant’s inability to assist in his defense and his willingness to do so. He also wrote that Damas’ possible mental illness has little bearing upon his competency.

“The fact that Defendant may have a mental illness is certainly relevant to the issue of competency, but it is not determinative,” he wrote.

The likely next question in the case is whether Damas should be allowed to represent himself, as he has repeatedly requested. Baker has promised to address the issue with Damas, and he suggested last week that, should the defendant be found competent, the court would explore it.

The court may also choose to again explore Damas’ competency down the road, if it feels his behavior merits it.

© 2011 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 10

Naplestango writes:

Does Mr.Damas have the option of returning to his homeland to be judged?

Banker26 writes:

The Judge is delusional and has succumbed to political pressure. It's too bad because we all suffer in the end.

brighteyes writes:

I believe in our justice system and understand that in order to ensure defendants get a fair trial, we adhere to our constitutional rights. Thank God we live in the USA. However, in this case, I wish there was an exception to the law and he could just be euthanized like the mad dog that he is and save the taxpayers a ton of money. Dear God, he killed his wife and children and then confessed to it. Perhaps, we should have left him in his native country and let their justice take it's course.

ocelot_snake writes:

He wants to be executed so I say leave him on some hellish island thousands of miles from anywhere and let him rot

sunburnt writes:

bring out "Ol Sparky" and fry him

brighteyes writes:

in response to brighteyes:

I believe in our justice system and understand that in order to ensure defendants get a fair trial, we adhere to our constitutional rights. Thank God we live in the USA. However, in this case, I wish there was an exception to the law and he could just be euthanized like the mad dog that he is and save the taxpayers a ton of money. Dear God, he killed his wife and children and then confessed to it. Perhaps, we should have left him in his native country and let their justice take it's course.

For all you grammar buffs out there, I should have typed "its" not "it's." I actually did but my I-Pad corrected me and I did not notice it. Love technology.

Here4Now writes:

Look, this guy's a friggin' fruit basket. He's not competent to order from a breakfast menu, let alone stand trial. Is he guilty - darned tootin'. Should he fry - you betcha'. But competent to stand trial? Really?

Yes, we all want to see him "gone", but don't pretend for one minute that he is competent. There are other agendas at play here.

TRIPWIRE writes:

FIRST ROUND TEST SUBJECT FOR THE 'MOAT PROJECT'

Here4Now writes:

in response to 239tothe85o:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You mean don't be incompetent

eascc9#228733 writes:

in response to Naplestango:

Does Mr.Damas have the option of returning to his homeland to be judged?

no way can he return home to be judged. mankind pays good dollars for justice. every so often we get it.

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