NAPLES — Mesac Damas, a North Naples man charged with killing his wife and five children in 2009, is expected to go to trial in early 2014.
Damas, 36, who last appeared in court in 2011, was quiet and respectful, unlike past hearings, when he played it up for the news media and cameras. His lack of antics Monday prompted Collier Circuit Judge Ramiro Mañalich to thank him after the 15-minute case management conference.
Attorneys told the judge it would take until early 2014 to be ready for trial and they’d need a week to select a jury for a roughly six-week trial.
“Do you anticipate any plea negotiation process at this point?” Mañalich asked Assistant State Attorney Rich Montecalvo.
“No sir,” replied Montecalvo, who sat with Assistant State Attorney Dave Scuderi and State Attorney Steve Russell, who heads the five-county office.
The hearing was intended to brief the judge how far attorneys have come since Damas’ arrest in September 2009, when he confessed to an FBI agent and a Daily News reporter after fleeing to Miami, hopping a plane and flying to Haiti.
Records show Mañalich wrote to the prosecutors and three public defenders after he took over the case from retired Circuit Judge Frank Baker in January. Citing the seriousness of the charges, Mañalich said he wanted to discuss “regularly recurring case management or pretrial conferences” and welcomed suggestions that could “reduce the time, expense, difficulty and stress involved in preparing a case of this magnitude.”
Collier sheriff’s deputies discovered the bodies of 32-year-old Guerline Damas and the couple’s five children, their throats all cut, in the couple’s rental home on Hampton Circle on Sept. 19, 2009, a day after Guerline Damas didn’t show up for work at Publix. The children were: Zack, 9; Maven, 6; Marven, 5; Megan, 3; and Morgan, 19 months.
The deaths came three months into Damas’ sentence to a year of probation, community service and parenting classes after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery for striking his wife.
The slayings came after she’d begged a judge to let him come home — and just days after he took a batterer’s class. The violence in their home, dating to when they met, is documented in arrest reports and domestic violence petitions.
He was captured by Haiti police two days later and extradited to Florida, where he has remained in the county jail since Sept. 23, 2009. He’s been deemed competent to stand trial and faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder.
At the hearing, Assistant Public Defender Kathleen Fitzgeorge, head of the Southwest Florida Public Defender’s office, said they needed 90 days for both sides to exchange information about witnesses and evidence.
“We have some witnesses from Haiti. Before we schedule their depositions, we’d like to determine they’re there,” Fitzgeorge said, adding that they also need to locate and take pre-trial sworn testimony from FBI agents. “They tend to move around a lot.”
Mañalich went through a checklist of what’s still needed as Damas, who wore an orange jail jumpsuit, sat quietly at the defense table.
Mañalich said he wanted another hearing in about 90 days, adding: “I do want to have a more substantive discussion on that date and have a more definite timeline.”
The hearing date hasn’t been set.
Afterward, Guerline Damas’ two sisters, Magalie and Netty Dieu, and brother, Mackindy, talked with a victim advocate in the hallway. One woman burst into tears and they went into a conference room to speak privately with prosecutors and advocates. She cried again afterward and the siblings declined to comment.
Court records show at least 30 prosecution witnesses, in addition to medical experts. Most are from the Sheriff’s Office, but others include FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents, Miami-Dade police and homicide detectives, Miami airport and American Airline employees, and Damas’ co-worker from Miller’s Ale House, a woman he dated for roughly three years, including during his two-year marriage.
Mesac Damas — charged with killing his wife and five children in 2009 — should go to trial in early 2014.
Collier Circuit Judge Ramiro Mañalich conducted a 15-minute hearing this morning at which Damas appeared in court for the first time since 2011. The judge heard the status of the death penalty case from prosecuting and defense attorneys.
Attorneys said they expect the trial to commence early next year.
Public defenders told the judge there are no plea negotiations and that the case is taking a while to put together because of trying to track down witnesses in Haiti.
Damas, who showed no emotion in court, has been held in the Collier County jail in East Naples for the past four years, when he was charged with killing his wife and their five children in the family’s North Naples home.
Damas, 36, faces possible execution if convicted of any of six charges of first-degree murder. Damas already has been deemed competent to stand trial.
The bodies of his wife, Guerline, 32, and the couple’s five children were discovered in the family’s home in September 2009, their throats cut. The children were Zack, 9; Maven, 6; Marven, 5; Megan, 3; and Morgan, 19 months.
The trial is expected to last six weeks. Damas is expected to return to court in about 90 days for a case management conference. No date has been set.
Fitzgeorge heads Damas’ defense team, along with Collier County Chief Assistant Public Defender Connie Kelley and Assistant Public Defender Neil McLoughlin. Stephen Russell, state attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit, leads the prosecution’s team, with Assistant State Attorneys Richard Montecalvo and Dave Scuderi as co-counsels.
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