NAPLES — A judgment on murder defendant Mesac Damas’ competence to stand trial was delayed again on Friday, as attorneys and the judge awaited the third, and final, psychiatric report in the death-penalty case.
Damas, meanwhile, ignored the protests of the judge as he spoke loudly to the TV cameras and courtroom audience, the latest in a pattern of outbursts for the defendant and another sign he intends to control his case.
“Don’t cry for me, guys,” he told the courtroom, which included his brother and parents. “Cry for yourself.”
Damas, 34, is charged with six counts of first-degree murder in the killings of his wife and five children in their North Naples home in September 2009. He confessed to a Daily News reporter in Haiti days after fleeing to his native country, and he has suggested his guilt in multiple courtroom outbursts.
Friday’s hearing was intended to explore the next step in the case, following three psychiatric examinations of Damas. But the final psychiatric report had not been finished by the time of the hearing, and Collier Circuit Judge Franklin Baker concluded the proceeding moments after beginning it.
The examinations shed light on Damas’ competence to proceed, a legal definition that speaks to a defendant’s capacity to participate in court, not his mental state at the time of the alleged crime.
In a competency hearing, the likely next step in Damas’ case, Baker would consult the psychiatric reports to determine whether Damas understands the nature of the proceedings and can assist his attorneys. If deemed incompetent, the judge would consider how Damas’ competency could be restored, possibly through medication or a temporary commitment to a state facility.
Baker said he would another status hearing after receipt of the final report, by Dr. Frederick Schaerf of Fort Myers.
Damas has repeatedly asked to represent himself, a request Baker has promised to respond to in the future. Told on Friday that the judge wouldn’t give an answer during the hearing, Damas responded angrily. Appearing less sickly and more lucid than in previous hearings, he spoke in a strong voice.
He told Baker that he wasn’t sick and didn’t need a doctor, and he turned to his parents and brother, Abed Damas, in the courtroom gallery.
“Abed, I love you,” he said. “I want you to know everything happens for a reason.”
He then turned to TV camera crews, where he held his gaze through the protests of Baker and the attorneys. Damas spoke of a need to be on death row “so I can preach the word of God.” He commonly invokes religion in his outbursts.
Neil McLoughlin, one of Damas’ attorneys, urged him to be quiet.
“This is the judge’s courtroom,” McLoughlin said.
Damas continued, even as deputies encircled him and demanded his silence. Baker concluded the hearing, and Damas was lead out of the courtroom and into a holding cell.
Moments later, his mother exited the courtroom in tears. The hearing was the first she had attended for her son.
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