Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Judge: Teen Accused Of Killing Classmate Competent

Teen's Murder Trial Scheduled To Begin Immediately

POSTED: 10:55 am EDT May 27, 2008
UPDATED: 5:30 pm EDT May 27, 2008

MIAMI -- A Miami-Dade County judge has ruled that a teenager accused of killing a classmate is competent to stand trial.

Judge John Schlesinger's ruling, issued Tuesday afternoon, means the long-delayed murder trial of Michael Hernandez, 18, will begin immediately. Jury selection is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Hernandez is accused of stabbing Jamie Gough, 14, to death at Southwood Middle School in 2004. Gough was stabbed more than 40 times in a second-floor bathroom at the school.

Prosecutors said Hernandez methodically plotted the killing, even putting Gough's name on a hit list.

Defense attorneys had requested a last-minute evaluation of Hernandez's mental health and competency to stand trial, but two court-appointed lawyers testified in court Tuesday that while Hernandez does have mental health issues, he understands the accusations against him and can participate in his own defense.

"I have no concerns," said Vanessa Archer, one of the psychologists who evaluated Hernandez. "He is competent."

Hernandez spoke briefly in court, asked by the judge if he understood what was likely to happen next -- specifically, the selection of a jury.

"Yes, sir," said Hernandez.

Hernandez said he had rejected a prosecution offer of a plea deal that would have sent him to prison for a minimum of 50 years in exchange for a guilty plea. The judge asked Hernandez if he understood that the maximum penalty he faced was life in prison.

"You understand in Florida life means life," said the judge. "You come out of prison in a box."

"Yes, sir," said Hernandez.

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