Thursday, June 25, 2009

Death row inmate's mental competency at issue

Death row inmate's mental competency at issue

Tribune file photo
Franklin Delano Floyd attends the penalty phase of his murder trial in 2002.

By MARK DOUGLAS News Channel 8
Published: June 23, 2009

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Four years after Pinellas Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley sent convicted killer Franklin Delano Floyd to death row for murdering an exotic dancer, he's coming back to face her again today.
This time the issue is Floyd's mental competency, not whether he killed Cheryl Ann Commesso, whose bones were found along Interstate 275 in 1995.

Commesso disappeared in 1989, when she was working at the Mons Venus strip club in Tampa with another dancer who was married to Floyd.

Prosecutors say that woman, Sharon Marshall, died under suspicious circumstances in a hit-and-run accident in Oklahoma, but Floyd was never charged in her death or the death of her son, whom Floyd kidnapped in Oklahoma, along with the boy's school principal.

The boy, Michael Hughes, was never found, but the principal survived and later testified at Floyd's murder trial.

Investigators linked Floyd to Commesso's murder with pornographic pictures found taped to the gas tank of the truck Floyd used to abduct Hughes and the principal.

The photos depicted Commesso's badly beaten body posed in a sexually explicit manner while bound, restrained and blindfolded on a couch. A witness later testified the couch was in Floyd's Pinellas Park trailer.

In a strange coincidence, the photos surfaced almost at the same moment a maintenance worker stumbled across Commesso's skull while maintaining the right of way along I-275 in St. Petersburg.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, who helped prosecute Floyd, says the question of Floyd's competency presents a number of problems.

It would be dangerous to transfer Floyd to a mental hospital if the judge decides he's too mentally ill to face execution or the continuing legal motions associated with the death penalty process, Bartlett said.

"Right now, we've hit a stumbling block," he said.

If doctors and defense lawyers convince the judge that Floyd is mentally incompetent, that effectively would stop all motions in his case, and he would end up in a kind of legal limbo. In that event, the courts could not consider Floyd's remaining postconviction motions, but he couldn't be executed either. It's also unclear whether he could remain on death row.

Something similar happened prior to his criminal trial when Ley declared Floyd incompetent in March 2001 and sent Floyd to the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center.

Doctors there found him competent, manipulative and abusive and sent him back to Pinellas County to face trial.

Since then, Floyd's behavior in court has sometimes been disruptive, and his legal defense interrupted by pro se motions he filed himself. Court records show an order striking his most recent pro se motion was filed just last week.

Ley will preside over Floyd's competency hearing, which begins at 9 a.m. today at the Pinellas Justice Center. It is scheduled to last two days.

Reporter Mark Douglas can be reached at (727) 709-2753 .

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