Saturday, February 24, 2018
News Roundup

Judge rules cop killer faked mental illness for more than two decades

TAMPA — The curtain fell Friday on what one Tampa detective called an "Oscar-worthy performance" by cop killer Carlos Bello, 58, whose persuasive displays of mental illness have helped him avoid a death sentence for more than two decades.

For the first time in 15 competency hearings since the 1980s, a judge ruled that Bello was a malingerer who faked mental illness.

Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ron Ficarrotta, who had presided over many of the previous hearings, based his ruling on the opinions of a psychologist who observed Bello almost daily for eight months last year at the South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center near Miami.

When doctors weren't close by, psychologist Marla Rodriguez said, Bello would remind his visiting kids about Father's Day, keep himself groomed and his living space tidy, watch TV, eat heartily and even filch food from fellow patients — all evidence, she said, of normal behavior.

Only when being evaluated by doctors, she said, did he turn incoherent.

"He has played the system like no one has played the system before," said Assistant State Attorney Darrell Dirks. "I'll give him kudos."

Bello was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Tampa police Detective Gerald A. Rauft, 38, during a drug sting gone awry. Bello, a Cuban refugee who had arrived in the United States a year earlier, was selling 50 pounds of marijuana to an undercover detective for $13,500 when police broke in to make an arrest. Bello first shot Detective Robert Ulriksen in the elbow, arm and stomach, before turning his gun on Rauft.

In custody, Bello tried to commit suicide. He became catatonic. Doctors diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia and medicated him at a hospital, only to find he would stop taking his medications in jail and deteriorate.

In the 1980s, he was examined at least three times and found incompetent to stand trial. Doctors didn't deny he was mentally ill, but said he took advantage of his illness by exaggerating symptoms.

Six years after his arrest, a jury convicted him of murdering one detective and attempting to murder another. A judge sentenced him to die in the electric chair.

But in 1989, the Florida Supreme Court threw out the sentence, partly because Bello was made to wear leg shackles in court, which could have prejudiced the jury. The court ordered that Bello be resentenced.

Each time prosecutors tried, Bello had to be re-evaluated by mental health experts. The evaluations typically involved an interview with Bello and the administering of a battery of mental health tests. Every time, he was declared incompetent.

On Friday, the defense offered more evidence. A psychologist and a psychiatrist each testified that Bello remained incompetent.

Psychiatrist Dr. Ryan Estevez said Bello was "clearly psychotic" when they met for 15 minutes in jail last year. "He was mumbling, lying on a mat. He was speaking a 'word salad' — Spanish words strung together with no meaning."

Estevez said he has evaluated thousands of patients and knows when someone is faking:

"When you see thousands of horses, you're able to pick out a zebra."

The prosecutor said Bello had 30 years to perfect his act.

Ultimately, Judge Ficarrotta ruled that Rodriguez's observations over eight months were more reliable. She testified that Bello had done well day to day, even without psychotropic medications.

"My common sense tells me that eight months gives a better picture," Ficarrotta said. The judge also noted that Bello sat calmly through the two-hour court hearing. "I believe he has malingered."

Assistant Public Defender Charles Traina said he hasn't decided yet whether to appeal the decision. Prosecutors haven't decided whether to seek the death penalty again.

The judge did not set a date for resentencing.

Kimberly Rauft, who was just 12 when her detective father was killed, said the family has never given up hope of a final sentence. "We're very relieved."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story. John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]

Police: Man, 60, arrested for fleeing from fatal Largo pedestrian crash

Police: Man, 60, arrested for fleeing from fatal Largo pedestrian crash

LARGO — A 60-year-old man who police said was the driver in a fatal pedestrian hit-and-run on East Bay Drive from three days prior was arrested by Largo Police on Saturday, the department said.Victor Bonavita was arrested on three charges in relation...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sheriff: Roads reopen after Tampa crash results in natural gas leak near Citrus Park Mall

Sheriff: Roads reopen after Tampa crash results in natural gas leak near Citrus Park Mall

TAMPA — Officials reopened roads near Citrus Park Mall Saturday evening that had been closed in the afternoon for a natural gas leak caused by a car crash, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said. The Sheriff’s Office and Hillsborough County Fi...
Updated: 1 hour ago

boca ratonState lawmakerencourages Scott to remove sheriffA lawmaker is calling on Florida Gov. Rick Scott to remove Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel from office after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In a letter sent to ...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Two airlinescut ties withNRA aftershootings

The National Rifle Association lashed out at corporations rushing to abandon it on Saturday, as companies from United Airlines to Best Western have cut ties with the gun lobby organization.Without context, twin announcements from Delta and United air...
Updated: 2 hours ago

‘Up to States’ to armteachers, Trump tweets

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump appeared Saturday to begin refining his proposals for combatting school violence, tweeting that arming teachers as a deterrent against such often deadly violence — an idea he championed in recent days — is "Up to S...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Security Council demands30-day cease-fire in Syria

Security Council demands30-day cease-fire in Syria

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Saturday demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria "without delay" to deliver humanitarian aid to millions and evacuate the critically ill and wounded. U.N. humanitarian ch...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Updated: 3 hours ago
Call her more than just a survivor

Call her more than just a survivor

TAMPA — On the quiet morning of Oct. 8, 2011, a 30-ton freight truck ran a stop sign in the small town of Clinton, Conn.It ran over Colleen Kelly Alexander, who was riding a bicycle.The truck's front wheels crushed her, then spit her to the bac...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Police: Male motorcyclist crashed, then the driver was run over by two cars

Police: Male motorcyclist crashed, then the driver was run over by two cars

TAMPA — A male motorcyclist died early Saturday morning on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, the Tampa Police Department said.About 1:35 a.m., the victim rode his motorcycle west on the Courtney Campbell at high speeds, police said. The motorcycle stru...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Northeast High alumnus Jon Mott wins 3rd Gasparilla 15K crown

Northeast High alumnus Jon Mott wins 3rd Gasparilla 15K crown

TAMPA — Roughly 20 minutes into Saturday morning's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K, reigning champ A.J. Richmond glanced over his left shoulder to former college teammate Jon Mott and flashed a quick hand signal."He was telling me that t...
Updated: 7 hours ago