The raw video below of Mesac Damas' court appearance is courtesy of NBC-2.
NAPLES — An outspoken and defiant Mesac Damas asked a judge to “throw the switch” in his death penalty case so he could join his slain family.
The 34-year-old self-confessed killer was wheeled into the courtroom in a restraint chair for a brief appearance at a status hearing on Friday. He sang a Christian hymn loudly as he entered before settling down at the request of Collier Circuit Judge Franklin Baker.
Damas told Baker he was upset over being forced into orange coveralls in a holding cell outside the courtroom when he preferred to wear a jail-issued padded jacket for the appearance. Damas is on suicide watch in the Naples Jail Center.
“If they’re going to treat me like an animal, I’m going to come up like an animal,” he later told Baker.
Sixteen deputies were present in the courtroom, many of them standing by Damas’ reclined chair and the defense table. Others stood in the courtroom gallery, where family members of Guerline Dieu Damas, the suspect’s slain wife, were present.
Damas is accused of killing Dieu and their five children at their North Naples home last September, stabbing them and cutting their throats. He fled to Haiti, was captured and confessed to a Daily News reporter as he was being escorted to the airport for extradition. He faces six counts of first degree murder, and the state has filed for the death penalty.
Through much of Friday’s hearing, Damas’ head was tilted upwards toward the ceiling, and his eyes were closed. When he asked to speak with Baker at one point, the judge and attorneys advised him against doing so.
Damas continued, eventually telling Baker he wanted to join his family, and he suggested he was ready to be executed. He noted that a year had passed since the deaths, and he said he wanted to wait no longer.
“Whoever’s in charge of this, make the call,” he said. “Whoever can make the decision, throw the switch.”
Baker dismissed him from the courtroom, and Damas was rolled out singing.
It was Damas’ first appearance with his new defense team, lead by Deputy Public Defender Kathleen Fitzgeorge and assisted by defenders Neil McLoughlin and Connie Kelley. Damas’ previous attorney, Michael Orlando, left the Public Defender’s Office in July to open a private practice.
Baker appointed a second psychological evaluation for Damas during the hearing, and he gauged the progress of each side.
Assistant State Attorney Richard Montecalvo estimated a summer or fall trial was possible, an assessment he later told reporters was “optimistic” given the breadth of the case. Defense attorneys said they would not be ready by spring.
The prosecution has named 97 witnesses, nine of whom are out of town and three of whom are out of the country. Few have been deposed thus far.
The defense, meanwhile, is beginning what promises to be a lengthy investigation into Damas’ past, searching for signs of mental illness or other issues that speak to his alleged crime. The investigation is almost certain to take them to Haiti, where Damas was born and raised.
Any mitigating factors will be presented during a penalty phase of the trial, which would follow a guilty verdict in any of the homicide counts. Jurors in a penalty phase are asked to recommend a life sentence or the death penalty for a suspect. A judge is required to give great weight to the recommendation when sentencing.
Damas is alleged to have confessed multiple times to authorities. Montecalvo said the statements don’t necessarily make for an easy trial.
“It’s never a cake walk,” he said. “Never.”
Damas’ outbursts raise an issue for Baker, who must balance the defendant’s right to be in the courtroom with the judge’s ability to conduct the hearing. He noted that issues surrounding Damas’ presence could come back in future appeals, should the defendant be convicted.
Baker also said that if Damas wanted to come to court in the padded jacket, he should be allowed to do so.
The greater concern for Damas may fall on his attorneys, who must now defend a man who claims he wants to die. His behavior in jail has suggested a disregard for his health, at the least. Damas has refused to eat at times and lost considerable weight since his September 2009 arrest.
Fitzgeorge said she wasn’t aware of any specific suicide attempts, and she couldn’t say if her client was truly trying to kill himself.
“I don’t know his intent, I can tell you that,” she said.
DAMAS FAMILY KILLINGS COVERAGE
ONE YEAR LATER:
- Year after slayings of Guerline Damas, five kids, relatives ask ‘did it really, really happen?’
- Confessed killer Mesac Damas wants to die, so should court system let him?
- Damas family slayings: Year later, still haunting lives of friends, family, deputies
- Jail phone call: Accused killer Mesac Damas talks to father about his slain family, Satan and adultery
MESAC DAMAS CONFESSION VIDEO:
DAILY NEWS STAFF JOURNALISTS TALK ABOUT THE CASE:
- THE FIELD: Naples Daily News staff writer describes how he obtained an interview with Mesac Damas
- THE FIELD: Visual Journalist Greg Kahn discusses being the first journalist at the Damas crime scene, and other observations from the field.
- THE FIELD: Staff Writer Steven Beardsley answers questions about his interview with Mesac Damas