BOOKMARK DAMAS SECTION
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
Mesac Damas is mentally incapable of standing trial, or merely unwilling to assist his attorneys.
He suffers grandiose delusions, or he’s just very religious.
In a Thursday hearing to determine Damas’ competency to stand trial in the murder of his wife and five children, two pscyhologists and a psychiatrist offered differing depictions of the 34-year-old Naples cook. In one, he’s a sick man who needs treatment; in the other, he’s ready for trial, if resigned to a likely conviction and potential death sentence.
Collier Circuit Judge Franklin Baker will decide which depiction is accurate when he releases a ruling on Damas’ competency next week.
If he agrees with two of the three experts who testified during the hearing, Damas would be found competent and the case would move forward.
“He has the ability to tell someone what happened that day,” forensic psychologist Michael Herkov told Baker during the hearing. “He just chooses not to.”
Damas is charged with six counts of first-degree murder for the September 2009 slayings of his wife, Guerline, and five children, Morgan, 19 months; Megan, 3; Marven, 5; Maven, 6; and Zack, 9. The victims’ bodies were discovered in their North Naples home with slashed throats.
Competency is the legal definition of a defendant’s ability to understand the charges and penalties he or she faces, as well as the defendant’s ability to assist attorneys. It says nothing about the defendant’s mindset at the time of an alleged crime.
If found incompetent, Damas could be sent to a state hospital for months.
Damas was disruptive during parts of Thursday’s hearing, but he was more often collected and quiet, sitting next to his defense attorneys with head bowed or hands held to his face as if concentrating or in prayer.
Damas’ mother and father attended the hearing, as did a brother. Family members of Guerline Damas were also present.
State Attorney Steve Russell, named as lead attorney in the case, sat with prosecutors for the hearing, although he left proceedings to assistant state attorneys Rich Montecalvo and Dave Scuderi.
The three doctors met with and evaluated Damas twice since October 2010. In each sit-down, Damas refused to cooperate, instead preaching with the same religious fervor he’s shown in court hearings, each man testified.
All three experts regarded Damas’ zeal as his way to avoid discussing the slayings. But while Herkov and Fort Myers psychiatrist Frederick Schaerf testified that Damas can understand court proceedings and help his attorneys, Robert Silver testified he suffered from a delusional disorder and is incompetent.
“In Mr. Damas’ case, he believes he no longer has to take heed of the material world...in other words, he feels he’s immune to man’s law and only (responsible) to God’s law,” Silver said.
Silver never consulted jail medical and floor records, he conceded, and he was unaware of Damas’ past criminal history, which includes multiple court appearances for domestic violence.
Herkov and Schaerf each consulted those records, and both interviewed jail staffers as to Damas’ behavior. Both noted that Damas held conversations with staff about his diet, his treatment and his desire to see family members.
He preached to visitors, such as the doctors, but he become calm again after each left, they said.
Manic episodes last days, Herkov told Baker. Both men said his rantings didn’t make him delusional.
“I know he’s religiously occupied, but so are 20 million Americans or more,” Schaerf said.
During his evaluations, Damas referred to the charges against him, to the death penalty and to his attorneys, Herkov and Schaerf both said, suggesting he was aware and competent.
Damas is represented by Deputy Public Defender Kathleen Fitzgeorge and assistant public defenders Neil McLoughlin and Connie Kelley.
In an interesting moment Thursday, Damas’ father, Jean Damas Sr., scolded his son after the defendant launched into his first outburst. The elder Damas bolted upright from his seat in the gallery and pointed at his son.
“Mesac, quiet! Please, Mesac, quiet!”
Baker removed the younger Damas front the courtroom, something he did several more times during the hearing.
If Damas is found competent, Baker would likely explore Damas’ repeated requests to represent himself at trial. The judge said he’ll set a next status hearing in the coming days.