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Mother accused of murdering her baby poses legal dilemma

TAMPA — Everyone agrees that a mother accused of killing her 4-month-old baby is incapable of defending herself in court. But what to do with Eboni Thompson, 32, who police say fatally choked her crying daughter, Markala, in 2010?

Should authorities toss out the murder charge? Let Thompson go live with her sister in Virginia? Or try to get her to overcome her mental illnesses and her mental retardation so she can one day stand trial?

There was little agreement Friday on which option is best.

A psychologist told Hillsborough Circuit Judge Gregory Holder that Thompson's capacity to understand her murder charge and her legal rights could be "restored."

Two others said there was nothing to restore. They could treat her for her severe depression and her hallucinations, they said, but underneath was the mind of a 6-year-old. There is no cure for that.

Neither of those two saw a reason for Thompson to remain locked up.

The case has been tragic and difficult from the start. Thompson was forbidden unsupervised contact with the baby. But the father is accused of violating the order, leaving Thompson alone with Markala in December 2010. When he got home, the baby wasn't breathing.

Tampa police say Thompson put her hand around Markala's neck to make her stop crying. Later, a medical examiner found that Markala had three broken ribs and a broken arm.

The father, Marcus Harden, is charged with child neglect. Thompson is charged with first-degree felony murder.

In jail, Thompson has virtually shut down, doctors say. She sits and stares. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder due to previous domestic violence. She hears voices. She hasn't fully responded to medications for depression and hallucinations. Her IQ is 55. Doctors say she's like a child entering the second grade.

Psychologist Cecilia Yocum said an intensive "competency restoration" program over the next 6 to 12 months could get her ready for trial.

Thompson would attend classes five days a week to help her understand legal terms like plea bargaining.

But psychologists Joseph Blitch and Mary Elizabeth Kasper said there was little chance Thompson could ever be made competent.

Her mental illnesses could be treated, Kasper said, but Thompson had years of special education as a child and has reached her limits of intelligence.

Thompson's older sister, Carol Williams, has offered to shelter Thompson in her home in Virginia and arrange for day care and counseling there.

But Judge Holder was unwilling to make that decision Friday. "I'm more concerned with the psychotic aspects," he said, especially "her safety and the safety of others."

His other option is to let mental health experts try for six months to restore her competency.

He said he would rule June 26.

Either way, a trial looks nowhere near happening.

John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or jbarry@tampabay.com.

Mother accused of murdering her baby poses legal dilemma 06/08/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 8, 2012 9:54pm]
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