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Killer ruled not competent to face sentencing

Bello

Bello

TAMPA — Dashing the hopes of local law enforcement, a judge ruled Friday that Carlos Bello is still not competent to face sentencing for killing a police officer and injuring another during a drug raid 27 years ago.

Bello's history of mental illness is well documented. But some experts have long suggested that the Cuban refugee exaggerates his symptoms to avoid punishment. The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office wants him on Death Row.

"This person is just working the system and has proven time after time how he can do it," said Detective Greg Stout, president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association.

Indeed, the events leading up to Friday's outcome repeated a decades-old pattern. Bello's treatment team at the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee deemed him competent this summer and sent him back to a Hillsborough jail. Two local mental health experts also found him competent after evaluating him there in August.

More than a month passed before Bello's court hearing. Last Sunday, a third expert evaluated him. Dr. Bala Rao, a board-certified psychiatrist, reported finding Bello disheveled and naked in his jail cell. He had stopped taking his medication and wasn't eating because he feared the food was poisoned.

Under those circumstances, someone with Bello's diagnosis "can deteriorate quite severely and become incompetent," Rao said. "If I had evaluated him five weeks ago, I probably would have found him competent."

State mental hospitals are allowed to force a patient to take his medication. Jails are not. Prosecutor Darrell Dirks said Bello has manipulated the system, displaying signs of incompetency only when talk turned to his legal case.

But Assistant Public Defender Marcia Perlin said a person's competency must be determined based on his present mental capacity.

Bello was convicted of killing Tampa police Detective Gerald A. Rauft, 38, and shooting Detective Robert Ulriksen several times in July 1981. He received a death sentence, but the Florida Supreme Court overturned it.

In court Friday, Bello looked much older than his 55 years. His gray beard was long and bushy, his skin pallid, his gait slow. Finding that Bello did not appear lucid, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta ordered him back to the state hospital for further treatment.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Killer ruled not competent to face sentencing 09/26/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 29, 2008 3:12pm]
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