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Murder suspect is declared competent

During a sanity hearing Wednesday, murder suspect James Robert Matevia took the witness stand and told his story straight. Sure, he nearly decapitated an elderly woman with a machete four years ago, but it was self-defense, Matevia said. The woman was an evil sorceress who had killed 3.5-million unborn babies and ruined his love life besides.

Just ask Richard Nixon or rock singer Suzi Quatro, he said. They would explain everything.

"I'm definitely not insane," Matevia said. "I've been psychic since before I could talk."

Lawyers smothered giggles, and onlookers laughed out loud. The grins got wider when Circuit Judge Robert H. Bonanno found the 37-year-old defendant competent to stand trial.

Despite Matevia's delusions, three mental health experts had agreed that he fits the legal criteria for competence: he understands the charges against him, the legal system and can help his lawyers prepare a defense.

But Matevia disagrees with his lawyers about defense strategy. His lawyers want to present an insanity defense. Matevia wants to subpoena Nixon and Quatro.

They know he's psychic, Matevia said, and will help in a self-defense strategy. His psychic abilities allowed him to see that his victim, 78-year-old Thelma Frizzell, was dangerous.

"It's utterly absurd," said Matevia's lawyer Craig Alldredge. "If I'm required to present this defense, I might as well give up my practice and sell ice cream on Redington Beach."

Matevia was convicted of Frizzell's murder in 1987, but an appeals court threw out the guilty verdict saying that Judge Bonanno had given jurors outdated instructions.

Police say Frizzell found Matevia sharpening his machete behind her Henderson Boulevard beauty shop four years ago. When she approached, he slashed her through the mouth.

His trial is set for Nov. 13.

On Wednesday, four mental health experts testified before the court. All four agreed that Matevia suffers from mental or personality disorders. Only one thought Matevia wasn't competent to stand trial.

"He continues to be psychotic, and there's evidence of brain damage," said Robert Berland.

Matevia said he first heard about the massacre of unborn babies in Stag magazine in 1974. That same year, Matevia said, Nixon referred to his (Matevia's) psychic abilities during a televised news conference. Quatro noticed the same thing during a concert, he said.

After listening to the bearded man in handcuffs and jail blues, the judge took a moment to reflect.

"There may have been an article in Stag magazine describing the babies that had been killed," Judge Bonanno said. "We don't know if these things exist.

"He's insisted all along that he's a psychic," Bonanno continued. "Maybe he is. I don't know. Have you checked?"

"We all assumed it was just a delusion," Alldredge said. But now, Matevia's lawyer says he just might spend the money to find out.

"I'm going to hire a psychic," Alldredge said after the hearing. "The judge thinks that's what we should do and maybe we should."