Friday, May 21, 2010

State will not seek death penalty for accused downtown shooter

Prosecutor files notice, saying the death penalty 'is not in the best interest of the people of Florida'

May 20, 2010|By Sarah Lundy, Orlando Sentinel

Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty against Jason Rodriguez, the man accused of opening fire in a downtown Orlando office and killing one person last year.

The State Attorney's Office took the death penalty off the table this week after closely reviewing the case.

"Due to the consideration of the facts and law applicable to this case, it is not in the best interest of the people of the state of Florida to pursue the death penalty," prosecutor Robin Wilkinson wrote in the one-page notice.

Authorities are holding Rodriguez in a Florida mental hospital. He has a long history of mental illness, and Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry in January found him to be incompetent to stand trial.

Doctors are attempting to treat him so he can be legally competent to help in his defense at trial.

The hospital issued a report to the judge this week. That report is not yet public record.

"After a careful review of the facts of the crime, the evaluations of the doctors at the competency hearing, his documented prior mental illness, and testimony from witnesses at depositions, the state has chosen to waive the death penalty," Wilkinson said in an e-mail to the Orlando Sentinel.

"Mental illness is considered to be a mitigating circumstance. We also looked at what aggravating circumstances we believed we could prove. Although the state believes Mr. Rodriguez to be sane at the time of the offense, there is evidence he had been suffering from a mental illness."

Rodriguez, 40, is charged with first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder from a Nov. 6 shooting spree. Police say he walked into the architectural-engineering firm RS&H on the eighth floor at Gateway Center on North Orange Avenue, pulled out a gun and fired more than 20 rounds before leaving the building.

Otis Beckford, 26, a new father who worked at the engineering firm, was killed. Five others were wounded: Ferrell Hickson, Guy Lugenbeel, Edward Severino, Gregory Hornbeck and Keyondra Harrison.

Rodriguez was arrested at his mother's east Orange County apartment several hours after the attack.

He worked for RS&H for 11 months until he was fired June 2007 for "performance issues."

At Rodriguez's January hearing, doctors testified that he didn't rationally understand what was happening to him. He was described as paranoid and believed his attorney, Public Defender Bob Wesley, was part of a vast conspiracy against him.

His history of mental illness goes back a decade, including treatment from Greater Orlando Psychiatric Associates, where he was treated in 2003 and 2007.

Wesley, Rodriguez's attorney, could not reached for comment.

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