TAMPA — A doctor will determine whether the man accused of running down and killing a New Tampa father is too mentally ill to face trial.
A judge Friday appointed a psychiatrist to examine Mikese Morse, after a defense attorney formally raised the issue of Morse’s competency at his arraignment.
"This is the first time that my client’s mental health has been brought to the attention of the court," attorney James Smith said afterward. "I don’t think you have to be an expert to come to the conclusion that he has a severe mental illness."
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Mark Kiser ordered Dr. George Northrup to examine Morse. The judge will consider the doctor’s report at a hearing in late August.
If Morse is declared incompetent, he will likely receive treatment at a state hospital before the case continues in court. In court Friday, Smith entered not guilty pleas on his behalf to first-degree murder and other charges.
Morse, 30, was driving on New Tampa Boulevard on June 24 when he saw Pedro Aguerreberry on a bike path with his sons, according to Tampa police, who say Morse made a U-turn, tore across a swath of grass and intentionally ran into the trio.
The father died, the 3-year-old suffered a broken leg, and the 8-year-old had injuries police described as minor.
After their son’s arrest, Michael and Khadeeja Morse spoke publicly about his struggles with mental illness. Less than two weeks before the fatal crash, Morse went to a police station and told an officer he feared he might hurt someone, while rambling incoherently. He was committed for a mental health assessment under Florida’s Baker Act.
His parents said Morse was held at Gracepoint, a mental health treatment facility, for a week. But, they said, he was still in a psychotic state when released.
Shortly before and after the fatal crash, Morse posted videos to social media in which he rambled about "the devil" and "energies changing" inside him.
The family expressed dismay that prosecutors would proceed with a premeditated murder charge, given Morse’s apparent state of mind.
"He’s not being treated like he’s sick," Khadeeja Morse said. "He’s being treated like he’s a criminal."
Smith, the attorney, said he was concerned that the death penalty might be on the table, given the first-degree murder charge.
Prosecutors have yet to determine whether they will seek capital punishment for Morse.
State Attorney Andrew Warren has previously withdrawn from pursuing death sentences against defendants with a documented history of mental illness.
Contact Dan Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.