CLEARWATER — He lost his job and all 56 lawsuits. His children were being sexually abused. Then, in jail, the IRS guards tried to rape him, too.
Or so the voices in Dennis George Roache's head told him.
Jurors in Roache's first-degree murder trial were introduced Thursday to the paranoid, delusional world of this mentally ill 40-year-old St. Petersburg man.
And it was those voices, Assistant Public Defender Violet Assaid said, that led Roache to cut off the head of 18-year-old Gregory Shannon the morning of Feb. 4, 2002 — an allegation the defense did not contest.
The voices told Roache to do it, his lawyer said.
"Dennis hit Gregory a total of 52 times with his machete," Assaid told jurors, "the voice told him … if others saw what happened then they would stop having sex with the children.
"The voice said cut off his head, so he did. The voice said take it outside, and he did."
Roache carried the head outside, authorities say, and put it on the hood of a car. Then he put a mirror in front of the head, hoping the dead man could somehow see himself decapitated.
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The defense doesn't deny Roache is the killer. The state doesn't deny Roache is mentally ill.
The real stake in this trial is over state of mind: Was Roache insane at the time of the murder?
Roache was found incompetent to stand trial twice. Then Circuit Judge Robert Morris Jr. found him competent in February.
The defense will argue that Roache, who faces life in prison, was insane when he killed Shannon — thus he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
"It's not his fault that he has this mental illness," Assaid told the jury. "No one would choose to live in the world that Dennis Roache did. It's dark and full of dangers and conspiracies."
The state argued that Roache knew exactly what he was doing. It wasn't insanity or voices that drove Roache to break into an ex-girlfriend's house that morning in 2002 and attack a rival suitor with a machete, the prosecutor told jurors. It was jealousy, and thus it was premeditated murder.
"There is no doubt he is a schizophrenic," Assistant State Attorney Richard Ripplinger told jurors. "… Nevertheless, he told a detective what he did. He said he planned it.
"He was heard to say in the driveway that 'No man is going to be living in my house. No car is going to be parked in my driveway.
"She is mine for life.' "
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The neighbors on that Childs Park street still struggle to describe that morning.
Once, they knew Roache as the guy who did odd jobs next door. They called him the "Jamaican man" or the "crazy man."
Tessara Jackson was about to walk her 10-year-old daughter to the school bus the morning that Roache emerged from his ex-girlfriend's home across the street.
Then he lifted his arms.
"He had the head in his left," testified Jackson as she sobbed, "and the machete in his right."
"What did you do?" Ripplinger asked.
"I grabbed my daughter and ran into the house," she said.
From the witness stand she turned to face the jury on her left. She could not bring herself to look straight ahead and right.
That's where Roache sat at the defense table, expressionless, clad in a blue jail suit.
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During a break in the trial, with the jury gone, Judge Morris made an announcement: Roache refused to take his medication in jail the night before.
Both sides talked it over. They decided to press on with the trial. The state's case continues today.
Jamal Thalji can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8472.