Thursday, January 18, 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."

Comments

SPRING HILL — A Tampa man was arrested on DUI charges after mistaking a Bank of America drive-thru for Taco Bell, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.The branch manager of the Mariner Boulevard bank saw 28-year-old Douglas Jon Francisco...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
East Hillsborough strawberry farmer: ‘I was a kid the last time I saw this much ice’

East Hillsborough strawberry farmer: ‘I was a kid the last time I saw this much ice’

DOVER — Matt Parke grew up on his family’s strawberry farm, so he’s spent many nights watching as whirring sprinklers coated the crop with a protective layer of ice.Thursday’s cold snap stands out in the 34-year-old old farmer’s memory."I was a kid t...
Updated: 27 minutes ago

More than 400 apply to Pasco technical high school

School choice for 2018-19 is in full swing, and district officials said they’ve been pleased with the interest they’ve seen so far.The window for applying to the district’s magnet schools closed Jan. 12, except for applications for the new Wendell Kr...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
Crystal Lagoon planners brace for chilly ribbon cutting today(w/video)

Crystal Lagoon planners brace for chilly ribbon cutting today(w/video)

WESLEY CHAPEL — Mother Nature seems to have a way of putting a chill on one of the hottest amenities in residential real estate development.Members of the business community, elected officials and executives with Metro Development Group and Crystal L...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Pete police presence at MLK Day after-party raises concerns

St. Pete police presence at MLK Day after-party raises concerns

ST. PETERSBURG— Several people have complained about police patrols around the celebration in Midtown that follows the city’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, questioning whether a robust law enforcement presence this year was racially m...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Updated: 1 hour ago
Record-breaking cold sends arctic blast through Tampa Bay

Record-breaking cold sends arctic blast through Tampa Bay

It was record-breaking cold this morning as a deep freeze cast over Tampa Bay.Wind-chill advisories are out as feels-like temperatures sit between a bitter 20 and 30 degrees.Tampa tied its recorded for the lowest temperature of 29 degrees on Jan. 18,...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Goodman: We can no longer be silent about immigration reform

Goodman: We can no longer be silent about immigration reform

It is one of those times when we won’t have to wait for the judgment of history to learn the verdict of history.More than 800,000 DACA immigrants now sit, stew and wonder if the land they long yearned for is the great nation they long dreamt about.Th...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Police: ‘Man-bun bandit’ seen stealing packages from Clearwater home

Police: ‘Man-bun bandit’ seen stealing packages from Clearwater home

Clearwater Police are searching for a "man-bun bandit" who is seen stealing packages from a residence.Police on Thursday tweeted this video of the suspect, who is seen attempting to balance multiple packages while gathering them at a home on Majestic...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tampa Bay area doesn’t make cut as Amazon second headquarter finalist

Tampa Bay area doesn’t make cut as Amazon second headquarter finalist

To no one’s surprise, Amazon on Thursday released its list of location finalists for its second headquarters, and neither Tampa nor St. Petersburg was on it."We knew it was going to be a long shot and a difficult road," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said....
Updated: 2 hours ago