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Competency issues delay Hernando murder trial

Joshua Langley gets help with his tie before his appearance at the Hernando County Courthouse in Brooksville on Monday.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Joshua Langley gets help with his tie before his appearance at the Hernando County Courthouse in Brooksville on Monday.

BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando judge indefinitely delayed the capital murder trial of Joshua Langley after a defense attorney raised last-minute questions Monday about Langley's competency.

The 32-year-old Brooksville man is accused of fatally shooting his alleged criminal associate and friend, Jac'Quez Jones, during a dispute Dec. 4, 2006.

Langley is charged with first-degree murder with a firearm, robbery with a firearm and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

His court-appointed attorney, Candace Hawthorne of Tavares, contended that Langley exhibited "bizarre conduct" during a preliminary mental health consultation Saturday, according to a motion filed in open court.

Dr. Harry Krop, a clinical psychologist hired by the defense team, questioned Langley's "competency and ability to proceed to trial at this time," the motion states.

Hawthorne revealed the findings and asked for a postponement moments before Circuit Judge Jack Springstead planned to begin picking a jury.

Considering the court was ready to start the long-scheduled trial, the request frustrated the judge and prosecutor.

"I think the problem here is that the defendant — because he knows what he did, because he knows what he is facing and now is the time for him to come see the maker — he's going to do everything, anything and everything he can, to delay the case," Assistant State Attorney Peter Magrino told the judge. "That's what aggravates me."

But Springstead found the motion was legally sufficient and ordered a formal competency hearing.

In the coming days, three mental health experts — one selected by the defense, one by the prosecution and one jointly chosen — will examine Langley to decide whether he can adequately assist his attorney with his case.

A hearing on the findings is scheduled for Nov. 20. If the case goes forward to trial, it could happen in December at the earliest, if not early next year.

Another factor that could complicate the case is Langley's desire to fire his attorney and represent himself. But that issue went unresolved for the moment.

If the case goes to a jury, it would be the first death penalty trial in Hernando County in more than four years.

The last death penalty trial ended in April 2004 with a life sentence for Jacki Mulkey for his part in the robbery and death of Jennifer Snead in October 2002.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Competency issues delay Hernando murder trial 10/13/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 16, 2008 9:33am]
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