Thursday, March 5, 2009

Judge finds man competent to stand trial

St. Johns Circuit Judge Wendy W. Berger announced Wednesday that a man charged with shooting a mother and daughter to death more than two years ago is mentally competent to stand trial.

The judge then presided over a three-hour hearing into whether David Rama Johnson was competent enough to waive his rights and tell investigators about killing Carol Ann Jasner, 56, and Julia Jasner, 28, the evening of Dec. 10, 2006.

"He said he believed in the police system ... a life for a life," said Detective Tim Rollins, with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office. "He said he wanted to cooperate with police.

"He wanted to be guaranteed the death penalty and then make a statement."

Johnson, 28, is scheduled to go to trial March 23 on two charges of first-degree murder for killing the Jasners, who lived at the Casa del Mar Apartments on Anastasia Island.

Prosecutors announced at a competency hearing last month that they were no longer seeking the death penalty.

Johnson has had several mental evaluations and competency hearings since his arrest the day of the shootings. He has alternately been found competent and incompetent at evaluations that were done after his arrest.

He was committed to the Florida State Hospital at Chattahoochee for several months and later "restored" to mental competency.

Johnson has told the judge at several hearings that he didn't trust his lawyers and wasn't inclined to cooperate with them.

He also has sought to defend himself.

Assistant Public Defender Val Quetti attempted to withdraw from the case Wednesday, saying Johnson "won't cooperate with us in any way."

Johnson took a seat at the end of the defense table, as far away from his lawyer as he could get.

Quetti said Johnson won't talk at all to her or her co-counsel, Assistant Public Defender Jim Valerino.

Consequently, the two defense attorneys "feel we're not able to represent him," said Quetti.

Berger denied the request to withdraw, citing the severity of the charges and pointing out that Johnson can't pay for a private attorney.

Robert Hardwick, now an investigator with the State Attorney's Office, testified that he talked to Johnson three days after the shootings. He said he reminded the suspect "numerous times" that he had a right to have his lawyers present during questioning.

He said Johnson told him, "I don't care what my attorneys said (about not talking to police)."

"He said he would like to take a plea to a sentence of death before talking to investigators," said Hardwick.

Johnson, appeared to be in a rush to "plead and get sentenced that day. ... Get it over with," Hardwick said.

He testified that Johnson "seemed like he had some remorse," and there was nothing "bizarre or outlandish" about the suspect's behavior.

Rollins said Johnson was read his Miranda rights and then signed off on a form that he understood them.

The suspect said he had dated Julia Jasner for two years, but she broke up with him over the telephone the morning of Dec. 10, 2006, the detective said.

"He went to the apartment about the breakup," said Rollins. "He tried to persuade her to change her mind.

"He retrieved his firearm and drove to her residence with the intent of shooting her if she didn't come back."

The Jasners weren't home but pulled into the parking lot as Johnson walked away from their apartment.

Carol Jasner yelled at Johnson to leave the property. He allegedly pulled Julia Jasner out of the car.

The yelling escalated.

"Julia said, 'OK, I'll go with him,'" Rollins said Johnson told him. "Carol Jasner wouldn't allow it."

Johnson allegedly fired a "warning shot" into the ground.

"Carol Jasner wouldn't back off," Rollins said. "He shot her twice.

"Then he turned the gun on Julia Jasner. He kept firing."

Quetti insisted that the officers should not have been questioning Johnson, no matter what he said.

They knew, or should have known, that he was on a suicide watch and that his mental condition would make any statement suspect, she said.

Dr. Steven Bloomfield, who first examined Johnson on Dec. 11, 2006, testified that Johnson is paranoid delusional.

In his opinion, Johnson is not competent to stand trial or sign away his Constitutional rights.

Quetti wants the judge to agree with that evaluation and throw out Johnson's statements to the officers.

Bloomfield pointed out some examples of Johnson's delusions, which began before the shootings in 2006.

The defendant allegedly thought he had a relationship with a female emcee on Black Entertainment Network; he thought CNN or the National Security Agency had installed surveillance equipment in his computer; he cut holes in the ceilings and walls of his apartment, searching for surveillance devices.

"He said God has given him special powers to be super-intuitive," Bloomfield said.

But, Bloomfield added, the defendant often appears to be normal.

"His delusionary state comes and goes, with what he is considering doing, not in a time frame," he told Assistant State Attorney Chris France. "I also believe that, within the confines of his delusions, he would manipulate the system."

Berger did not say when she would make her ruling.

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