Saturday, December 8, 2007

Younger suspect in murder had 'mental problems'

Brother arrested in separate bat attack


FORT McCOY - Born prematurely at six months, William Myers weighed only a pound. At age 4, he was diagnosed as a schizophrenic with suicide rage disorder. He lived in several foster homes while his parents went through a bitter divorce, his family said. And now, at age 16, he stands charged with being an accomplice in the baseball bat slaying so brutal, a prosecutor has suggested it was done for "entertainment" or "pure meanness."

"He always had mental problems and issues," Irma Smith said about her stepson, whose 17th birthday Thursday was spent at the Juvenile Assessment Center.

Such was the life of Myers, as told by Smith and the boy's father, William, in an interview with the Star-Banner at Fort McCoy park.

Friday's arrest was yet another shock for the family. Myer's 18-year-old brother is in jail in an unrelated case on charges of beating someone with a bat. Now, the family says they are receiving phone death threats and someone tried to run Smith off the road.

On Friday, Myers and his 18-year-old cousin, James E. Roberts, were arrested by Ocala police and charged with the murder of 44-year-old Robert T. Leigh behind a Western wear store on Northwest Blitchton Road Police say Roberts swung the bat so hard that part of Leigh's head was lopped off.

Both Smith and Myer's father insist the teenager is "not a bad person." They conceded that he is a follower and not a leader.

"Growing up, he always craved attention," Smith said.

Myer's father and stepmother, who said they have received death threats, dispute the claims of the teen's aunt, Sherry Ann Mahle, that young Myers was kicked out of the home. Both said the situation that caused Myers to leave was spurred by two things.

On Oct. 20, the family hosted a birthday party at their Salt Springs home for Mahle and he wanted to drink. Because he was only 16, Smith told him no. After that, Myers decided he wanted to live with his mother, a person they say he seldom sees.

"I wasn't going to deprive him of his mother, so he went there," Myers' father said.

Not long after he went there, however, Myers got into trouble. The couple said Myers did not want to return home because he wasn't going to obey their rules. He then went to live with his aunt, Mahle, her husband and his cousin.

Mahle said in a Tuesday interview with the Star-Banner that Myers told her that he had been kicked out of the house.

Like Smith, Mahle believes her son also has had problems too big to handle. Mahle said Roberts never got over the death of his older brother six years ago, who was struck and killed by a car. He got into trouble, despite her efforts to get counseling for him and a general education diploma, she said.

The bat allegedly used in the slaying had belonged to Roberts' brother, and was a gift on his 12th birthday.

So far, the State Attorney's Office has not made a decision on whether Myers will be charged as an adult. They also have not made a decision on whether Roberts will face the death penalty. Myers is, by law, too young to face the death penalty, if convicted of first-degree murder.

Smith said there is another reason her stepson should be treated differently.

"He doesn't have a mental capacity of an adult," Smith said. At the time of the slaying, Myers was attending GED classes.

Myers' family hopes William will be transferred to a mental facility "to get help," his father said.

While the family is dealing with one son facing the possibility of a long time behind bars, they are also coping with Myers' brother, Michael, who is currently at the Marion County Jail in an unrelated case for allegedly beating someone with a baseball bat.

According to a Nov. 16 Marion County Sheriff's Office report, 18-year-old Michael Myers reportedly barged into a Salt Springs home and hit a 20-year-old man in the face and several areas of his body with a bat. The victim received a total of 12 stitches for lacerations to his upper lip and the back of his head. In an interview with the Star-Banner, Michael Myers denied hitting the man. He said the man was drunk and fell down the stairs. He declined to answer any questions about his brother.

Mahle said her son's bat was not used in that incident. Smith and the elder Myers didn't want to talk about Michael Myers' case.

The younger Myers cannot be reached for comment.

As for Myers and Roberts, Myers' father and stepmother said "they will stand by them."

"We will go to every visit, be at every court date, and be there every step of the way," they said.

They said "they're sorry for Leigh, his children and his family."

To keep his memory alive, the Leigh family has created a Web site in his honor. A section of the site read: "During the final months of his life, all he wanted was to reunite with his children, Rob and Illaena Kaye Leigh. While it is tragically too little, too late, we hope to honor his memory by doing something."

Austin L. Miller may be reached at or 867-4118.

1 comment:

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