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Trial begins for man in decapitation slaying in 2002

Assistant Public Defender Ron Eide talks with Dennis George Roache, 40, Tuesday during jury selection in his murder trial.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Assistant Public Defender Ron Eide talks with Dennis George Roache, 40, Tuesday during jury selection in his murder trial.

CLEARWATER — Armed with a machete, police say, Dennis George Roache decapitated a man in 2002 — then held a mirror to his victim's face so "if the head were still alive, it could see itself."

Roache, 40, went on trial this week for the first-degree murder of 18-year-old Gregory Shannon. He has the right to wear civilian clothes during his trial, so jurors won't presume he's guilty just because he's spent the last six years incarcerated.

Only Roache, facing life in prison, spent the first day of jury selection Tuesday dressed in jailhouse blues. His defense attorneys may hope jurors presume something else:

That Roache is not guilty by reason of insanity.

• • •

Roache's mental competency, and his sanity, was a concern even before his 2002 arrest for murder.

He moved from Jamaica to St. Petersburg around 1991. His family said he is a schizophrenic who didn't take his medication. Neighbors saw him talk to a piece of wood. His stepmother said he hears voices.

He was accused of choking his wife in 1993. In 1998 he was sent to a mental hospital. In 2000 he gave up his driver's license after being found medically unable to safely operate a vehicle. Later that year he was found incompetent to stand trial for a driving infraction.

Then on the morning of Feb. 4, 2002, police say Roache broke into a Childs Park home wielding a machete. Inside was his ex-girlfriend, Monique Pennywell, and her new beau, Gregory Shannon.

"I told you to stay away from my baby's mother," Roache told them, according to Pennywell.

Roache attacked Shannon as Pennywell ran into the bathroom to dial 911. When she emerged, Shannon's body lay beside the bed. The head was outside, with Roache.

Police said he propped the head against the windshield of an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and put a mirror next to it.

• • •

Twice Roache was found incompetent. But after a two-day hearing last year, Circuit Judge Robert Morris Jr. found Roache, now 40, competent to stand trial.

Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger told the St. Petersburg Times in 2006 that his office might pursue an insanity defense at trial. Court filings show his attorneys have filed notice that they may do just that and prove Roache suffers from mental illness.

That issue came up again Tuesday. Roache told the court he wanted to subpoena a witness — for a child custody hearing. His attorneys told the court that Roache sometimes forgets this is a murder trial.

"This is part of his delirium," Assistant Public Defender Ron Eide told the court.

Judge Morris then talked Roache through the criminal justice system one more time.

"Mr. Roache, are you ready for this trial?" the judge asked.

"Yes, sir," Roache said.

"Are you ready to get it done?" the judge asked.

"Yes, sir," Roache said.

Opening statements could start today.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Trial begins for man in decapitation slaying in 2002 09/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 29, 2008 10:04am]
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