Monday, June 2, 2008

Judge Issues Gag Order In School Murder Trial

Classmate Michael Hernandez Will Stand Trial

New Mental Exam Ordered In Middle School Murder

MIAMI (CBS4) ― A gag order has been issued in the trial of a South Florida teen accused in the grisly murder of a classmate in a school bathroom. After listening to arguments by the state and attorneys representing several media outlets, including WFOR/Miami Herald, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Schlesinger issued the order saying there had been extensive pre-trial publicity surrounding the defendant 18-year old Michael Hernandez. Hernandez, who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, is accused of killing 14-year old Jaime Gough in 2004. Gough had more than 40 stab wounds to his neck, face and hands when he was killed.

Hernandez, who was also 14 at the time, reportedly confessed to the murder in a video taped statement.

During Wednesday's proceedings the state also requested that potential jurors remain anonymous, but the judge denied that request ruling that only those directly involved with the case will not be able to speak to reporters once the trial begins. During the pre-trial hearing Hernandez, dressed in casual clothes and without handcuffs, sat quietly in the courtroom. When the hearing concluded, jury selection got underway.

Tuesday, a pair of court-appointed experts reported that the teen was competent to stand trial for Gough's murder despite indications of continuing mental illness. Both doctors testified that Hernandez was able to understand legal proceedings, assist his lawyer and comprehend the consequences of a first-degree murder conviction. "At this time, Mr. Hernandez is competent to proceed," said psychologist Ralph Richardson, who examined Hernandez last week. Also Tuesday, Hernandez and his attorney rejected a plea deal offered by the state of that would have sentenced the teen to 50 years in prison. If convicted at trial, Hernandez could face life in prison. During their investigation police found Hernandez's journal in which they say he wrote out a detailed plan for the murder, and had a "hit list" of other potential victims including his older sister. During Tuesday's hearing Hernandez's attorney pointed to some of his client's more recent odd behaviors; including extremely detailed and ritualistic teeth-brushing and hand-washing, and his refusal to allow jail personnel to wash his prison jumpsuits. He said Hernandez also obsessed about "characters" he created with names like "Stopper" and "Penny." During Tuesday's testimony, the court appointed psychologists said while they saw no signs of deep psychosis they did note that Hernandez exhibits symptoms of anxiety, depression and serious obsessive-compulsive disorder. Court appointed psychologist Vanessa Archer told the judge Hernandez is "seriously mentally ill" and has suffered from delusions; but she also found him highly intelligent and competent for trial.

"I think there's been a break in reality at some point for Michael Hernandez," said Archer, who also examined Hernandez in 2004. While Hernandez has generally stayed out of trouble in jail, earned a high school diploma in January and was previously been found competent for trial, the judge order this latest evaluation after the teen was placed on new medication by jail doctors. If Hernandez were found not guilty because of insanity, he would likely be committed to a state mental hospital but could be released at some future date if his mental condition improves.

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