Monday, January 4, 2010

Judge says accused shooter not competent to stand trial

By Sarah Lundy, Orlando Sentinel

2:58 PM EST, January 4, 2010

A judge found Jason Rodriguez -- the man accused in the downtown shooting last November -- incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to a state mental hospital for treatment.

Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry ruled after hearing from three psychiatrists and a psychologist who testified that Rodriguez was currently incompetent and could not help in his own defense.

Both Rodriguez's attorney, Public Defender Bob Wesley, and prosecutor Robin Wilkinson agreed that Rodriguez will likely become competent after treatment and return to Orange County to stand trial for first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder.

The doctors testified that Rodriguez doesn't rationally understand what is happening — although he understands the role of the judge, prosecutor and defense attorney.

They told the court that Rodriguez is paranoid and believes his attorney is part of a conspiracy to destroy him. Others, including the FBI, Orange County government and his former employers, also have roles in that conspiracy.

"I do not believe he is capable of participating with defense counsel at the present time and implement a rational defense," forensic psychologist Daniel Tressler said.

Three of the doctors diagnosed Rodriguez with schizoaffective disorder with depressive type. The fourth said he needed more information to determine whether Rodriguez suffered from schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia.

During the hearing, Wesley often spoke to Rodriguez, 40, before he finished questioning the doctors.

Investigators say Rodriguez walked into the architectural-engineering firm RS&H on the eighth floor at the Gateway Center on Orange Avenue on Nov. 6, pulled a gun out and fired more than 20 rounds before fleeing the building.

Killed in the rampage was 26-year-old Otis Beckford of West Palm Beach.

Five others were wounded: Ferrell Hickson, 40; Guy Lugenbeel, 62; Edward Severino, 34; Gregory Hornbeck, 39; and Keyondra Harrison, 27.

Rodriguez worked for RS&H for 11 months until he was fired on June 13, 2007, for "performance issues."

The doctors reviewed some of Rodriguez's medical history, which included mental health treatment in 2002 and 2007. He had been involuntary committed by police twice in 2007 and had been prescribed various anti-psychotic medications. According to medical records, Rodriguez reported that he attempted suicide when he was 16 and his father suffered from schizophrenia, the doctors testified.

Rodriguez told the doctors, who evaluated him in November and December, that he does not suffer from any mental illness. He also has refused to take medication at the jail.

Rodriguez isn't helping prepare in his own defense, such as signing waiver forms needed by his attorneys to get records.

About 30 minutes into testimony this morning, Rodriguez asked to leave the courtroom. But when questioned by Wesley, Rodriguez said he had to stay.

"I find this situation totally disrespectful," he told the judge "As much as I don't want to be here . . . and look at those uniforms. I'll stay. But you know it's totally disrespectful and insulting to a person's intelligence."

The court took a 10-minute break at mid-morning. Rodriguez was escorted out of the courtroom, and Wesley consulted with doctors waiting to testify.

Rodriguez returned to the courtroom after the break and testimony continued.

After his arrest, he told investigators that people at RS&H harassed him and threw him out "for no reason."

In the past, Rodriguez has been involuntarily admitted to Lakeside Behavioral Healthcare. His mother has called police remove guns from her home for fear Rodriguez would use them to harm himself.

The judge will be looking at his current mental health status — not his mental health at the time of the crime.

If Perry declares Rodriguez incompetent, Rodriguez will be sent to a state mental health hospital where he will be treated. The goal: Make him competent to stand trial and be able to assist in his own defense.

Doctors will evaluate him and issue medication. If needed, Rodriguez may also attend classes where he will learn about the players in the courtroom; for example, a teacher will explain the roles of a judge, prosecutors and witnesses.

A defendant needs to understand what is happening in court, why it's happening and be able to assist in his own defense to be competent.

For some defendants, it only takes a few months to be found competent again. Others never become competent, and after five years charges are dismissed.

Sarah Lundy can be reached at or 407-420-6218.

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