Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

After years of mental incompetence, Bobby McGee faces murder trial in Pinellas

It has been 16 years since Bobby Lane McGee was accused of killing his wife, but he's yet to stand trial.

That could change this summer, in an unusual murder case that relies almost as much on chemistry as law.

McGee, 59, has spent well over a decade classified as mentally incompetent. But now, doctors say a cocktail of medicines with names such as Haldol Decanoate, Seroquel and Cogentin will improve his sanity.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office and a judge believe — or at least hope — that McGee will be mentally capable of understanding that on July 22 he is scheduled to be tried on a charge of first-degree murder. Judge Chris Helinger has ordered him to be given the appropriate medicines in a state hospital, by force if necessary.

But there's a complication. McGee cannot be forced to take his medicines once he is sent to the Pinellas County Jail. The Sheriff's Office has said the jail "does not have the facility or equipment to forcibly provide the injection" of medicine.

If he stopped taking his meds, as he has threatened, his chemically induced sanity would fade.

And then, the court system would have to race the clock to put McGee on trial quickly — before he succumbs again to the world of his demons.

• • •

Helene Ball McGee was 44, a nurse who happened to work at the Pinellas County Jail. Inmates liked her, as did co-workers.

She married Bobby Lane McGee on Jan. 17, 1998. It was her first marriage. It was at least his sixth.

He had legally changed his name from Robert Elvin Lane Jr. before they met. It's unclear if it had anything to do with the song made popular by Janis Joplin, Me and Bobby McGee.

Trouble started almost immediately.

McGee left a weird seven-page letter in their neighbors' mailboxes calling his wife "Hell-ene" and describing her as "a deciple (sic) of the anti-Christ." McGee also delivered a copy to this newspaper.

According to a 1998 Times article:

McGee hand-delivered the same letter, with a photograph of him and his wife arm in arm, to the Clearwater Times last week. Wearing camouflage pants and holding a backpack, he appeared agitated when he spoke briefly with a religion reporter. McGee handed her an envelope and told the reporter that his message was spreading fast, then he quickly left.

Helene tried to get a restraining order against him, saying he forced himself on her sexually and burned her belongings. And, she wrote, McGee wanted her to change her first name to Celene "because Helene is from hell and must be destroyed. … I'm afraid he will act on these threats and try to kill me."

A judge denied her request, calling it legally insufficient. This later prompted criticism and a protest.

They had been married just two months when a process server came to their house and grew concerned when he found the door open. He called for help.

Sheriff's deputies found Helene's body inside, stabbed multiple times.

They found McGee behind the house. He wore camouflage fatigues and a black mask, and was hiding in a drainage ditch. A knife was found nearby.

After his arrest, prosecutors said they wanted the death penalty.

• • •

At times, doctors have said McGee suffers from schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or bipolar disorder.

He was declared mentally incompetent in 2000 and sent to the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee. In 2001, the hospital "suggested he was competent," according to court records, but a judge found him incompetent. The hospital found him competent again in 2003, but the court again found him incompetent. He was eventually sent to the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center in Gainesville.

Over the years, McGee has sometimes written to a judge who was on his case, Philip J, Federico, with comments such as:

I NEVER INTENDED TO KILL MY WIFE, BUT ONLY WANTED TO PERFORM AN EXORCISM.

And this:

I FELT LIKE I WAS BEING ATTACKED BY ALL KINDS OF DEMONS AND I PANICKED AND STARTED STABBING AND SWINGING OUT OF CONTROL.

And, apparently paraphrasing a passage from Jeremiah, he wrote: "God said to me, Bobby Lane McGee … before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

After multiple evaluations, sometimes with conflicting results, the North Florida center said in 2012 it was likely McGee could regain his mental competence with the right medicines.

A July 7 hearing date has been set to determine whether he is, in fact, competent. In the meantime, a judge set a July 22 trial date so the case can move forward if he is.

However, it appears McGee does not want to come back to Pinellas to face trial.

"He wrote that he would stop taking his medications if taken back to jail and that he would be verbal in court," Assistant State Attorney Glenn Martin wrote in a memo to the court.

He added: "It is the state's position that the defendant is actively and intentionally sabotaging the legal process, thereby preventing the state from seeking justice for the capital murder."

Judge Helinger said in an order in December that, given the unusual circumstances of the case, "involuntary medical treatment is necessary."

Prosecutors are no longer seeking the death penalty. If McGee is convicted, he would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

• • •

"It's an unusual case, that's all I can say," said Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger, whose office is representing McGee.

He declined to get more specific about this case. But he did say that, in general, when state hospitals decide people have become mentally competent after long periods of time, it raises questions.

"We're quite skeptical about it. There's been a push to get people out of the state hospitals." He added that, "oftentimes, it appears it's more of a financial situation than a real medical situation."

It costs an average of $110,000 a year for people to stay at the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center in Gainesville. It cost $17,338 to house an inmate in a Florida prison in 2012.

Anna Raff is skeptical, too. But in a much different way.

She is 81, the aunt of Helene Ball McGee. For her, it has been a long, hard wait.

"It's just injustice," she said. "The system today is broken down, if you ask me."

"He's gotten away with this, all these years."

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