Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Defense argues brain damage should keep Pasco murderer off death row

The judge will consider the evidence when he sentences Derral Wayne Hodgkins on Feb. 1.


The judge will consider the evidence when he sentences Derral Wayne Hodgkins on Feb. 1.

DADE CITY — Attorneys for a man convicted last year of strangling and stabbing a 46-year-old diner cook made a last-ditch attempt Tuesday to keep their client off death row by arguing that he suffered from brain abnormalities.

Two psychologists who examined brain scans and personality tests of Derral Wayne Hodgkins testified that parts of his brain were smaller than normal.

"The brain damage affects two regions that are very important for regulating emotional behavior, particularly behavior under stress," said Ruben C. Gur, a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania and director of its brain behavior laboratory. "What we see is a type of abnormality in a resting state that could portend problems when someone is facing a task, particularly under stress."

Gur said Hodgkins' brain scans indicated that he had poor impulse control.

"This is as bad as we see in seizure disorders," he said. "It looks like in this default brain state, Mr. Hodgkins does not feel emotions, but there should be a lot of anxiety."

Hodgkins was released from prison in 2004 after serving nearly 17 years for raping a 12-year-old Hillsborough County girl. Sometime on Sept. 27, 2006, he went to the Land O'Lakes apartment of Teresa Lodge, a diner cook he knew some years earlier. Prosecutors say he got into a struggle with Lodge and strangled her. As she lay unconscious on her bedroom floor, he stabbed her seven times.

More than a year passed before he was arrested. That's when lab tests on scrapings taken from underneath Lodge's fingernails revealed Hodgkins' DNA. Prosecutors said it got there as Lodge clawed and scratched in vain to fight off the attack.

The case went to court in January 2011 but ended in mistrial after a state's witness mentioned Hodgkins' rape conviction. Seven months later, a new jury convicted Hodgkins of first-degree murder and recommended the death penalty.

Bjorn Brunvand, Hodgkins' attorney, attacked the DNA evidence during last year's trial, saying the state's DNA analyst had conceded that it was possible for people's DNA material to transfer to others through normal contact and that it can stay there even through multiple hand washings. At the hearing on Tuesday, however, the subject of DNA didn't come up. Instead they focused on Hodgkins' brain function.

Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa heard the evidence and will consider it, along with the jury's recommendation, before handing down a sentence on Feb. 1.

Hodgkins, a slim 53-year-old man with a closely cropped haircut and glasses, sat in an orange-striped jail uniform and watched quietly as the psychologists testified that he lacked the ability to control his behavior.

Prosecutors pointed out that in 1993 Hodgkins earned his high school equivalency while serving prison time on the rape charge.

They also asked Gur whether he examined any state Department of Corrections files in which Hodgkins denied any type of mental health problem in 1985, as well as a 1988 medical screening in which he denied any hospitalization for mental illness.

When he was put in solitary confinement for being a disciplinary problem, he didn't deteriorate emotionally, records showed.

"The records reflect that he responded very well to that stressor," Assistant State Attorney Glenn Martin said.

He also questioned whether the simple examination of a brain scan and a magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, could provide any valuable information about Hodgkins' motivation.

"You cannot say with any reasonable degree of psychiatric certainty that that brain abnormality caused Mr. Hodgkins to kill Teresa Lodge on Sept. 27, 2006," Martin said. "Isn't it true the only thing you can do is hypothesize and speculate based on a PET scan and MRI and brain abnormalities that you've testified to?"

Hyman Eisenstein, a Miami clinical psychologist who gave Hodgkins a variety of tests and interviewed his mother, said the results showed poor impulse control.

"She reported that as a young child, he was hyperactive; he had difficulty concentrating," Eisenstein testified.

Eisenstein said the test results, combined with letters Lodge sent him while in prison, "were totally consistent with brain damage.

He read part of a letter Lodge wrote Hodgkins in prison in which she urged him to slow down.

"I never realized you had such little faith in our friendship," the letter said. "Next time question, stop, listen and think about all possible circumstances concerning the situation, please . . ."

"She was clearly sensitive to what frontal lobes do," Eisenstein said. He said Hodgkins felt rejected by Lodge and was unable to control his impulses.

During cross examination, Martin pointed out that Hodgkins had been out of prison for two years before he murdered Lodge.

"Over two years transpired when he was out on the street controlling his emotions over the rejection he received two years prior to the murder," Martin said.

Defense argues brain damage should keep Pasco murderer off death row 10/16/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 8:31pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Looking Back: Have you ever heard of Goose Pond?


    I've lived in St. Petersburg most of my life. After a brief spell in North Carolina, my family moved back to St. Petersburg for good in 1978. And in all that time I've never heard the area around Central Plaza referred to as "Goose Pond."

    1952: Factors which made the Central Plaza development logical can be discerned in this photo, by those who know the realty situaiton here. Low grade and a 55-acre school site in storage kept the 90-acre Goose Pond (upper center) almost bare until now. 


  2. Red Cross finds launching pad for Hurricane Irma help at Idlewild Baptist

    Human Interest

    LUTZ — The Rev. Ron Alexander, pastor of Baxterville Baptist Church in Lumberton, Miss., stirred gallons of chili in the mid-afternoon heat on Monday.

    The Rev. Ron Alexander, pastor of Baxterville Baptist Church in Mississippi, stirs a pot of chili. He is part of the Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief team stationed at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz.
  3. Young girl injured by 105 mph foul at Yankee Stadium renews call for more netting


    NEW YORK — A young girl at Yankee Stadium was injured by a 105 mph foul ball off the bat of Todd Frazier during Wednesday's game against Minnesota, leading some players to call for protective netting to be extended.

    Baseball fans reacts as a young girl is tended to before she is carried out of the seating area after being hit by a line drive in the fifth inning of a baseball game between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, at Yankee Stadium in New York. [Associated Press]
  4. Florida education news: Accountability plan, post-Irma, turnarounds and more


    ACCOUNTABILITY: The Florida Department of Education submits a revised Every Student Succeeds Act plan without the waiver requests it had originally proposed. Experts and advocates …

    High Point Elementary teacher Kristen Bierman works with English language learners on their reading skills. The state wants to test all students in English, saying it's Florida law.