Friday, September 3, 2010

Death-row inmate John Huggins declares himself competent

John Huggins, who killed Carla Larson in June 1997, has been fitted with a device that will deliver an electric shock if he gets out of control.

By Anthony Colarossi, Orlando Sentinel

6:08 PM EDT, August 23, 2010

Death row inmate John Huggins declared himself competent Monday and reiterated his opposition to his own lawyers while sitting next to them in court.

Huggins, who was forcibly removed from his cell to attend Monday's hearing, also announced he has filed an ethics complaint against the judge in his case, Orange-Osceola Chief Circuit Judge Belvin Perry.

Monday was the first day of a lengthy evidentiary hearing for Huggins, who refuses to participate in his own defense while questions about his competence linger. The hearing is expected to run through Wednesday.

Huggins killed 30-year-old construction engineer Carla Larson in June 1997. Her body was found near Walt Disney World.

Now, Huggins, 48, also refuses to meet with court-appointed experts to evaluate his competence.

"I am competent," Huggins told Judge Perry today. "My mental condition is sound and always has been sound."

However, a psychologist hired by his legal team said Huggins has a history of mental illness and has raised doubts about his competence to assist his counsel in his post-conviction relief motion.

Perry repeatedly asked Huggins if he would agree to meet with a court-appointed doctor and Huggins repeatedly – and respectfully – declined.

Huggins on Monday briefly alluded to his belief in a conspiracy against him, involving his ex-wife and Oklahoma City, but he did not elaborate. Ultimately, Perry will rule whether Huggins should receive a new trial, get a new penalty phase or remain on death row, heading for execution.

But Huggins' repeated refusals to cooperate have left Perry asking both sides for answers on how to proceed. Perry already ruled that issues covered during this week's hearing do not require Huggins' input.

But on Monday he said future topics will likely require his participation and a firm determination regarding his competence.

"Maybe this is the first time this has happened. I doubt it," Perry said. "At some point we're going to have to discuss this issue."

Meanwhile, Huggins has been fitted with a "REACT belt,'' a stunning device that will deliver an electric shock if he gets out of control.

Recently, Huggins refused to leave his cell and appear via video conference call for a hearing intended to deal with his request to fire his legal team.

Huggins' defense attorney has argued his hearing should be delayed until the question of Huggins' competence can be settled.

Yet Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton on Monday said Huggins appeared lucid and understanding of what was going on. He offered one explanation for Huggins' lack of cooperation: "It's not in his [Huggins'] best interest to make this easy," he said.

Anthony Colarossi can be reached at or 407-420-5447.

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