TAMPA — A brain-damaged ex-Marine who last May was sent to a mental hospital rather than prison for DUI manslaughter may find himself released to the outside world sooner than anyone expected.
Scott Sciple, a former Marine captain who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries when he drove the wrong way on Interstate 275 two years ago, killing a 48-year-old father of five. His blood-alcohol level was three times the level at which the state presumes someone is impaired.
Last year, the Marine Corps made an extraordinary admission that it failed to diagnose and treat Sciple for his combat-related brain injuries and never should have sent him to MacDill Air Force Base. The crash happened on Aug. 25, 2010, only days after his arrival.
In May, the widow of crash victim Pedro Rivera told a judge she was convinced Sciple needed medical care more than a prison sentence. "We can't just keep doing things to people who need help," Carmen Rodriguez said.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Lisa Campbell agreed to send Sciple to Poplar Springs Psychiatric Hospital in Petersburg, Va., a locked facility that specializes in military-related disorders. He could have been sentenced to 15 years in prison.
On Friday, the judge was told that Sciple has exhausted his insurance coverage and can no longer stay at the hospital, where the cost of his care is $1,000 per day.
Defense attorney John Fitzgibbons said Sciple has been accepted by a combat rehabilitation center in Galveston, Texas, under the sponsorship of a nonprofit group called Project Victory.
But to be eligible, Sciple would have to spend 30 days outside a facility. Fitzgibbons asked Campbell to allow Sciple to stay with his parents in Alabama for a month. Sciple would wear alcohol and GPS monitors while at his parents' home and would abide by a curfew.
As part of Sciple's sentence, he is supposed to serve two years of community control. But Fitzgibbons said Sciple's doctors have concluded that he needs to attempt to function in society as part of his rehabilitation. His time with his parents would include visits to a nearby gym and an effort at beginning community service.
Fitzgibbons asked for the Friday hearing because many courtrooms will be closed during the Republican National Convention next week. But Campbell said she couldn't agree to any plan without more information.
She said she will need confirmation from the state Department of Corrections that the transfer is acceptable, and she will need assurances of cooperation from authorities in Alabama and Texas.
"I don't want him to become a victim of the system," she said.
Campbell set another hearing for Sept. 14 and said she wanted Sciple to participate through a video call from Virginia.
John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]