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Prosecutor, defender lay out cases in Delgado murder trial

TAMPA — Cindy Roberts closed her eyes, breathed, chewed her gum with intent.

In a Hillsborough courtroom, on the opening day of the trial she has awaited for more than two years, she was about to hear the last recorded words of her husband, Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts. He spoke to dispatchers at 9:58 the night of Aug. 19, 2009 using two codes — the first, his call sign; the second, his plan to approach a subject for interrogation. "Lincoln 61," he radioed. "Signal 80."

The recording is one of silent stretches and scant words. At 3 minutes and 40 seconds, came a short, inaudible transmission police consider a sign of distress. The dispatcher reacted: "Lincoln 61."

No answer. She asked if any units were headed that way. She called out again to Roberts, "10-34?" Was he okay?

Some in the courtroom, including the dispatcher on the witness stand, began to cry, knowing the answer.

Roberts was on his back, with a bullet in his chest.

For the next two weeks, the question of life or death will turn to another man.

The one with the gun.

• • •

Humberto Delgado Jr., 36, sat at the defense table in a suit, a clean-cut, medicated version of the wild-haired homeless man police encountered that night. They found him hiding near the crime scene, prosecutors said, hands out, saying things: "I'm sorry." "I didn't mean to." "I'm a police officer, too." "I'm one of you." "It was my training."

"I'm crazy."

The defense, in opening statements, chronicled Delgado's mental illness in the most detail ever released. He was a police officer in his native St. Croix when he became obsessed with the fraternal Masons. In his mind, they were a cult out to kill him because he would not join.

He left the department and got hired at an oil refinery, but thought his supervisors were Masons, too. He began hearing voices that told him to take off his clothes in public, and finally, he did. His family had him committed. His wife, afraid, left the island with their children.

His problems continued when he joined the U.S. Army, which to his family's surprise, accepted him. But he believed soldiers were climbing through the ceiling tile to get into his room and kill him, and that someone had set an improvised explosive device on a propane truck near his barracks. The Army examined him and determined he was bipolar and having a manic episode with psychotic features. He was discharged with compensation for some physical injuries he suffered in training, but not the mental, which the Army determined existed before he joined.

While living in North Carolina, where he had been stationed at Fort Bragg, Delgado met a woman and had a baby. But that relationship, too, unraveled. He wound up in Oldsmar, living with an uncle.

Amid his paranoia, he'd amassed a collection of guns.

He couldn't sleep, and paced his uncle's home all night, talking to himself. Eventually, the uncle, who had two daughters and a wife, asked Delgado to leave.

He was homeless, with nowhere to go. He'd visited veteran's hospitals, trying to get more compensation for his disabilities. He'd tried and failed in Pinellas. But he learned of a hospital in Tampa. So he loaded his backpack with guns and other belongings, and he began to walk. Fifteen miles and eight hours later, his path crossed that of Cpl. Roberts.

The defense does not deny that Delgado was the man Roberts approached, pushing a shopping cart full of weapons, or that he is the man Roberts stunned with a Taser, as Delgado attempted to run.

The defense noted his gun showed signs of malfunction.

"We ask that you not stop in this case with just figuring out 'who,' " Assistant Public Defender Chris Watson told the jurors, "but that you listen for the 'why' and the 'how.' "

• • •

To the prosecution, the case comes down to choices, all made by Delgado: "He chose to run. He chose to struggle, to resist with violence," Assistant State Attorney Karen Stanley told jurors.

"And when he somehow got the corporal down on the ground, he chose — he decided — to pistol-whip him," she said of Delgado. "You will see the photographs. You will see the bruises. And as the corporal was lying on the ground, helpless and unmoving, he took that .45-caliber pistol and he took the kill shot that ended the corporal's life.

"You're going to learn that he ran back to his shopping cart to retrieve yet another firearm. …He chose to point it at Sgt. Paul Mumford, who had just gotten to the scene," she said.

"He then ran."

As some officers attempted to give Roberts chest compressions and rescue breaths, others tracked down Delgado. Later, authorities made a record of his words in a holding cell. "He deserved it." "It was self defense." "I was scared and I ran when he discovered my guns." "He f------ violated my rights by going through my bag." "He shouldn't have went through my s---."

The prosecutor continued.

"This man," she told jurors, "said he is the true victim."

Cpl. Roberts, too, had made choices on that day, she said. He chose to put on a uniform, go to the streets and do his job.

"At the end of this trial, you will be asked to make a choice," she told the jurors.

"Choose justice."

If convicted of first-degree murder, Delgado could be sentenced to death. The trial resumes Monday.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Prosecution

Excerpt from opening statement by Assistant State Attorney Karen Stanley:

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. This trial is about choices — choices and consequences. Let's start by talking about some of the defendant's choices, the decisions he made that led him to be seated at that table, facing you, facing first-degree murder charges. He chose in 2006, to purchase a (9mm) Glock pistol. He chose, in 2007, to purchase a .22-caliber revolver. He chose in 2008, to purchase a semi-automatic assault rifle. And in '09, he purchased a .45-caliber pistol. And you will learn that that pistol is the pistol he used to murder Cpl. Mike Roberts. You'll also see the receipts from those purchases.

Now let's talk about August 19 of '09, and let's talk about the decisions and the choices the defendant made on that day. You will learn that he took all of those firearms that I mentioned and numerous, numerous rounds of ammunition, and he came to Tampa. You will learn that he packed those firearms along with some personal belongings into a shopping cart. He left Oldsmar about mid-day on Aug. 19, and he began his journey, a journey that ended here.

You will hear that at about 10 p.m. on August 19 of '09, he was wheeling a shopping cart down Nebraska Avenue, and that was when he had contact with Cpl. Mike Roberts. You will learn that he decided, he chose, not to cooperate with the corporal. That, in fact, he chose to run, and then when the corporal attempted to tase him in an attempt to stop his flight, he chose to struggle, to resist with violence. And when he somehow got the corporal down on the ground, he chose — he decided — to pistol whip him. You will see the photographs. You will see the bruises. And as the corporal was lying on the ground, helpless and unmoving, he took that .45-caliber pistol and he took the kill shot that ended the corporal's life.

You're going to learn that he then ran back to his shopping cart to retrieve yet another firearm. And after retrieving that firearm, he chose to point it at Sgt. Paul Mumford, who had just gotten to the scene. You will then learn that as numerous police officers, numerous units are speeding to the scene, lights and sirens, he then ran.

You're going to hear from some of these officers. And some of these officers will tell you how they attempted to aid Cpl. Mike Roberts. How they gave him CPR, chest compressions, rescue breaths. You'll also hear from other officers who will tell you that they immediately went in search of the man that had killed Cpl. Mike Roberts, that had taken that shot. You're going to learn that that search ended at 812 Yukon St. That search ended when five officers found that man hiding behind some wood that was leaning against a shed.... They're going to tell you what they saw, and what they heard. And they will tell you that they saw, upon coming across the defendant, his hands out. And more importantly, they will tell you what he said. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. I'm a police officer, too. I'm one of you. I'm crazy. It was my training." Minutes after this man shot Cpl. Mike Roberts, he had the presence of mind to say what he knew he needed to say to save his own life.

You're going to hear about some other things that the defendant said after he was no longer facing armed police officers, when he was in a holding cell. And, ladies and gentlemen, these are not my words, these are the defendant's words. This is what he said:

"He deserved it. It was self defense. I was scared and I ran when he discovered my guns. This would never have happened if my girlfriend hadn't kicked me out of the house." He said, "He f-- violated my rights by going through my bag." He said, "He shouldn't have went through my s---."

This man said he is the true victim. The VA was not helping him. The entire system let him down. He asked for recommendations for a good attorney who would represent him as the true victim. He said, when this case comes up, he can't deny anything that happened. He said it was just one bad choice after another. One bad choice after another.

Cpl. Roberts also made choices on that day. He chose to get up, put on his uniform, go out on the streets and do his job. That choice cost him his life. At the end of this trial, you will be asked to make a choice.... We will ask that you find the defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Choose justice.

Defense

Excerpt from opening statement by Assistant Public Defender Chris Watson:

Good morning. This case is not about who. This is about how, and why, "how" being the dynamics and the mechanism of the shooting, and "why" being the mental illness of Mr. Delgado. This case involves two people who had never met before, didn't know the existence of each other and had no contact until about 10 p.m. on the evening in question, when their lives crossed and their lives were shattered and will never be the same....

Mr. Delgado is mentally ill. He has been since probably somewhere around the year 2000. He has a condition that is called bipolar condition.... The condition varies in its intensity. It may come on and be worse; it may back off and not be as bad. It can be controlled, in part, by proper medication and it may be controlled, in part, by a person's environment... If things are going well, the condition may not be as bad. If the person's life swings out of control, the condition may come back and manifest itself even more.

You will hear from a variety of witnesses who are aware of Mr. Delgado's mental illness. Some will be family members. Those will be the first people who will see that someone they grew up with and have known all their lives, that something about them has changed...

He was born in St. Croix, which is in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He lived there most of his life. He graduated from high school in '93. A few years later, he married his wife, who had been his high school sweetheart. During the course of his marriage, they had two children. He joined the police department in St. Croix and he worked there for five years. And you will hear how, over time, that unraveled and fell apart.

You will also learn that during that period of time, Mr. Delgado began talking about people who are Masons, or people who he thought were Masons.... He began to obsess about this. He thought people who were Masons were in a cult and were evil. And virtually every place he went, he believed there were people who were Masons who wanted him to join them and become a Mason and when he wouldn't, then those people took it out on him, was what Mr. Delgado believed. He read books about them. He became something of what you would call a conspiracy theorist. He saw someone out to get him and kill him around every corner.

After approximately five years with the police department, they parted ways. He went to work for an oil refinery.... He worked for them for about a year. Same problem. He thought his supervisors were Masons. Within a year, he was terminated. He developed concerns, thoughts, delusions that people were trying to kill him. He began acting strangely. He began hearing voices telling him to take off his clothes in public, so he did so. Finally, in April 2003, his family took him to a hospital and had him committed.... He got out ... and began falling apart.... His wife was so concerned about his behavior, she took the children and she left the island....

He decides to join the Army.... His family was surprised that the Army would take him given his mental condition.... His mental health deteriorates again. He believes that soldiers were climbing through the ceiling tile from one room to another to kill him. He believed that someone had set what is called in military language an IED, an improvised explosive device, on a propane tank that was next to his barrack.... In short order, his commander decided he needed to be looked at.... The army, of course, decided he wasn't exactly what they were looking for so the Army decides to let Mr. Delgado go and the Army decides that we didn't make him crazy, he had these problems before he got here.... There began a series of efforts by Mr. Degaldo to get what he believed would be a fair compensation...

He turns to an uncle who resided in Florida who lives in Oldsmar... And before he did ... he bought guns. He thought people were trying to harm him. He thought people were trying to kill him. So he would go into stores, he would fill out the forms, and he was allowed to buy firearms....

He begins to start acting strangely. He can't sleep at night. He's wandering around the house pacing all night long acting strange, talking to himself. His uncle has two daughters, a wife, and he decides ... "Humberto, you have to move out." And this time, Mr. Delgado clearly has nowhere to go. And for the first time in his life becomes homeless. And he is out on the streets in Pinellas County with his mental illness trying to get by.... He finally decided he's getting no help here from the VA in Pinellas. He learns of a VA hospital that's in Tampa, James Haley center up near USF. So he decides he will go over there to see if he can get help. He really sticks out because it's August. It's hot. And here's this guy in blue jeans with a coat, back pack weighed down. The person's walking with a cane and he has a limp.... And he starts walking....

He's made it about 15 miles. And Cpl. Roberts pulls off in his vehicle facing him with the headlights on, not the overhead light. Cpl. Roberts, who does have an in-car camera, did not activate the camera when he stopped.... There is no recording of the encounter that Cpl. Roberts planned to have with Mr. Delgado. Mr. Delgado does, in fact, try to run away, tries to avoid Cpl. Roberts, tries running across the street. And Cpl. Roberts does pull out his Taser and fire his Taser at Mr. Delgado....

You will see a photo of Mr. Delgado, and he will look different than he does now.... He's in a controlled environment. He is fed. He is no longer homeless.

Now the "how" is the gun we're talking about, the .45 he had bought several months before, is a semi-automatic handgun that I believe had 10 bullets.... You would expect at the location where Cpl. Roberts was shot with this gun that there would be a spent .45-caliber casing.... They discover the spent shell casing is still inside the chamber.... The gun did not function the way it's supposed to....

We ask that you not stop in this case with just figuring out "who," but that you listen for the "why" and the "how" and at the end of this, you will let us know what you believe is the proper verdict in this case.

Prosecutor, defender lay out cases in Delgado murder trial 11/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 5, 2011 12:16am]

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