NAPLES — Suspected killer Mesac Damas never uttered a word, but his brief appearance in a courtroom on Friday spoke volumes.
Stooped, distracted and substantially thinner, Damas’ health, both mental and physical, appeared questionable.
“He’s just not eating like somebody normally would do, to sustain themselves,” Assistant Public Defender Mike Orlando said after the hearing, a status conference intended to gauge progress in the case.
Damas has lost 80 pounds since his September 2009 arrest, Orlando said, and the Naples jail has shared its concerns with the attorney.
The suspect also struggles in conversations about the case, he added.
“I can’t say he has a total grasp of the situation,” Orlando said
The 33-year-old former cook is suspected in the 2009 slayings of his wife, Guerline Damas, 32, and the couple’s five children. They were Morgan, 19 months; Megan, 3; Marven, 5; Maven, 6; and Zack, 9. Damas confessed to a Daily News reporter days after the killings; authorities say he’s confessed to them multiple times.
If convicted, he faces the death penalty.
The Collier County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on Damas’ health or eating habits, citing federal privacy laws.
Damas was dressed in an orange coverall and flip-flops, and he wore shackles around his hands and ankles. He pressed his hands together and held them before his waist, as if in prayer, and he appeared to acknowledge someone in the gallery.
He remained quiet during the hearing, his head stooped, and he gently rocked in his seat.
A Damas family member attended the hearing, as did eight relatives of Guerline Damas. Clad in the same white T-shirt, which has a picture of the victims on the front and reads “Dieu Angels,” they sat quietly in the gallery. Dieu was Guerline Damas’ maiden name.
A woman from the local domestic abuse shelter was also present in the courtroom. Guerline Damas stayed at the shelter in the past.
The hearing, in front of Collier Circuit Judge Franklin Baker, found that both sides were making progress in the case. Assistant State Attorney Richard Montecalvo said his office is deposing law enforcement officers and crime scene technicians who worked the scene. Orlando said he’s receiving discovery as it becomes available.
Orlando is leaving the Defender’s office in July and handing the case over to Kathleen Fitzgeorge, a transition that may cause a few minor delays in the case, he told Baker. Fitzgeorge, a homicide defender out of Fort Myers, will be assisted by public defenders Neil McLoughlin and Connie Kelley.
Fitzgeorge sat down with Orlando and Damas last week, Orlando told Baker.
Due to the case’s complexity, and prosecutors’ pursuit of the death penalty, it will likely be years before Damas goes to trial. He was originally born in Haiti, and Orlando expects public defenders or their experts will travel to the nation for research into the suspect’s background, a process yet to begin.
They will search for ‘mitigating factors,’ or clues into Damas’ history that may explain his behavior to jurors weighing his life during a penalty phase.
Baker set the next status conference for Aug. 13.
Friday’s hearing was delayed after power in the courtroom died, moments after Damas entered the room. The lights flickered and went down, and the court recording system, required for the hearing, lost power. Baker delayed the hearing 20 minutes until the system rebooted.
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