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Experts testify man accused in Tampa police officer's death had fear of Masons

TAMPA — Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts may have died in August 2009 because of a homeless gunman's delusional ideas about the fraternal society of the Masons.

Two psychologists and a psychiatrist depicted Humberto Delgado as a former Virgin Islands cop and Army washout overtaken by depression and paranoia. They said he feared Masons, thought they had been torturing him for years, and believed Roberts meant to kill him.

But only the psychiatrist testified that Delgado was legally insane when he shot Roberts. The two psychologists said Delgado had a bipolar disorder with psychotic features. The fatal shooting wasn't premeditated, they said, but Delgado was legally sane, meaning he understood what he was doing.

The experts testified before Hills­borough Circuit Judge Emmett Battles, who will decide today how much is admissible when Delgado's first-degree murder trial starts on Monday. Prosecutors want the death penalty.

Each expert said Delgado described in detail the hours leading up to the shooting, telling them he was in despair over his homelessness and armed and ready for any trouble on the street.

Delgado had cleared out a storage locker in Largo, packing clothes, a laptop computer and an assault rifle and handgun into a backpack. He stuck two more loaded handguns in his pants pockets.

In Oldsmar, he started walking east on Tampa Road toward the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa. He hoped for VA help in renting an apartment. It took him all day to get as far as Nebraska Avenue in Sulphur Springs, 20 miles from Oldsmar.

Roberts came across him that night, pushing a shopping cart. By then, the mental experts said, lack of food and sleep had made Delgado delusional.

He told them Roberts accused him of stealing the laptop. Delgado said he had receipts for it, but also told the officer he had firearms. Alarmed, Roberts pushed away the shopping cart.

By that point, the experts said, Delgado believed Roberts was a Mason, out to harm him.

They said Delgado had feared the Masons since the late '90s, when he was a policeman in the Virgin Islands. Other officers there had tried to recruit him to Masonry, mainly known for its secret handshakes, charities and the fezzes and clown costumes of its Shriners.

Delgado resisted recruitment, fearing the Masons were a "cult." He said the Masons harassed and threatened him. He believed other Masons later ruined his short stint in the Army.

When he encountered Roberts, "The question in his mind was: 'Is this one of the Masons who want to kill me?' " forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Maher testified.

Delgado told his examiners that Roberts fired a Taser at the back of his head as he ran into the street. He said he "blacked out" and remembered nothing else.

Psychologist Mark Ruiz said Delgado may have suffered a "seizurelike reaction" from the Taser.

Yet, after the shooting, two bystanders told police Delgado had the presence of mind to shout, "Don't tell police you saw me."

Police said he also used his cell phone while hiding. "I shot a police officer," Delgado allegedly told his uncle. "I think I killed him."

Battles said he would rule today on the admissibility of the mental health testimony. He will also rule on evidence from a controversial brain test called a "quantitative EEG," which the defense says links his mental illnesses to past brain injuries.

John Barry can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3383.

Experts testify man accused in Tampa police officer's death had fear of Masons 10/24/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 24, 2011 11:19pm]
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