Saturday, July 7, 2007

Murder suspect mildly retarded, psychologists say

By Larry Keller

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, July 07, 2007

WEST PALM BEACH — Psychologists say Allissia Alexander is mildly retarded, and that may ensure that she avoids the death penalty if she's convicted as charged of first-degree murder.

Alexander, 24, of West Palm Beach, and Candace Sims, of Riviera Beach, are both charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of Eben Roblero during a botched robbery in December 2005.

Sims and Alexander went looking on a Friday night for Guatemalan and Mexican men to rob along Broadway in West Palm Beach, police say. They found Roblero. Sims pulled a gun and demanded money, and when Roblero resisted, she shot him dead, according to investigators.

After Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams filed a written notice of intent in February 2006 to seek the death penalty against both women, Alexander's lawyers retained psychologist James Barnard to evaluate her.

Barnard concluded that Alexander is mildly retarded overall. He said she is severely retarded in communication skills, with reading comprehension a little below the second-grade level.

Florida law prohibits imposing a death sentence on a mentally retarded person, and in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the practice.

Williams said he had decided not to seek the death penalty for Alexander regardless of her IQ. That's because she wasn't an active participant in Roblero's murder, he said. Alexander didn't fire the gun, nor did she urge her co-defendant to do so, he said.

"We trust his candor, but until there's a written waiver, we consider it a death penalty case," said Assistant Public Defender Shari Vrod, who is Alexander's co-counsel.

Barnard's report on Alexander and those of two other psychologists were sealed by a judge this week when a Palm Beach Post reporter asked for copies of the reports from her file. An employee of the clerk and comptroller's office refused, saying they should have been sealed. A judge subsequently sealed them.

They were unsealed Friday after Post attorney Martin Reeder intervened, and the public defender's office said it didn't object to the records being public.

Other experts made similar findings about Alexander before she was evaluated by Barnard.

Palm Beach County School Board tests in 1990 and 1996 found she had an IQ of 59 and 58, respectively. A person with an IQ below 70 is considered retarded by many experts.

A psychologist concluded in 2004 that Alexander was "functioning within the low end of the educable range of retardation."

Another psychologist wrote in a 2004 report that the West Palm Beach native "functions in the mildly mentally retarded range of intellectual capability."

Despite those limitations, defense attorneys have not sought to have Alexander declared incompetent to stand trial. Another psychologist who interviewed her twice last year placed her IQ at 65, but reported she had the capacity to understand and assist in legal proceedings, and is competent to go to trial.

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