VIDEO: Judge postpones competency hearing today for accused killer Damas

Competency trial postponed

Mesac Damas case is delayed again.

— A judge postponed the scheduled competency hearing for accused killer Mesac Damas on Thursday, citing defense counsel’s late receipt of a stack of records in the case.

Attorneys for Damas said they had yet to analyze 1,500 case documents they received Tuesday afternoon, most of them medical records.

Defense attorneys argued the records could be material to a competency, an effort to determine if Damas is capable of understanding and participating in his case.

The prosecution told Collier Circuit Judge Franklin Baker they merely forwarded one part of a larger stack of documents that were available to defense counsel at the Naples Jail Center in April. Assistant State Attorney Richard Montecalvo agreed to the postponement, “very reluctantly,” he told Baker.

“The fact of the matter is this case has stopped,” Montecalvo said. “And it shouldn’t be stopping.”

The hearing is now set for June 2 at 8:30 a.m.

Damas faces a potential death penalty on six counts of first-degree murder for the slayings of his wife and five children at their North Naples home in 2009.

The postponed hearing is the latest delay in the year-and-a-half old case. Among hold-ups, Damas’ attorneys have declined to conduct depositions before determining their client’s competency.

Baker again on Thursday pressed for depositions to begin in the case, particularly with professional or law enforcement witnesses such as forensic analysts and pathologists. Deputy Public Defender Kathleen Fitzgeorge again declined, but she attempted to reassure Baker that defense counsel was still working on peripheral aspects of the case.

Her team includes assistant public defenders Neil McLoughlin and Connie Kelley. Prosecutor Montecalvo was joined by Assistant State Attorney Dave Scuderi on Thursday.

Beyond procedural delays, Damas’ case is likely slowed by its own weight. Death penalty cases are complicated, and they receive great scrutiny after disposition. Judges have reason to tread lightly, for fear of creating an appealable issue.

A spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office later said the records in question have been available to attorneys at the jail. The psychiatrists who examined Damas would also be allowed to see the records, provided they have a court order.

The spokeswoman said prosecutors hand-delivered 1,000 pages of the documents to the defense on April 20, per discovery protocol. Defense attorneys then requested a second batch, of 1,500 records, be delivered earlier than protocol required. Prosecutors e-filed the documents on Tuesday.

“Again, these are copies that are always available at the jail,” the spokeswoman, Samantha Syoen, said.

Whether defense counsel knew the records existed is not clear; Fitzgeorge declined comment outside the courtroom.

Adding to the confusion of Thursday’s hearing, Damas repeatedly interjected as Baker and attorneys discussed matters. Upon entering the courtroom, shackled, he asked to speak.

Baker said he might let him speak at some point during the hearing, to which Damas replied, “You promise?”

The defendant resumed talking aloud minutes later, and he ignored repeated requests by Fitzgeorge and the bailiffs to remain silent.

“Sir, look at the judge,” one bailiff demanded.

“That’s no judge up there,” Damas responded.

Baker and attorneys finished the hearing by speaking over Damas, a difficult task given the volume of the defendant’s voice.

The judge gave attorneys three weeks to look through the discovery material. Three psychiatrists who examined Damas will also be allowed to update their reports in the next three weeks, Baker ordered.

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