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Court says Hill can't represent self

Published Oct. 4, 2005

The Florida Supreme Court refused Thursday to let former minister Paul Hill represent himself in the appeal of his death sentences for two murders outside a Pensacola abortion clinic.

The justices in a unanimous decision said they could not let Hill become the first death-row inmate in Florida to handle his own appeal.

"The court is concerned that it cannot properly carry out its statutory responsibility to review Hill's conviction and sentence of death without the skilled adversarial assistance of a lawyer acting on Hill's behalf," the court said.

Circuit Judge Elzie Sanders had recommended last month that the Supreme Court let Hill handle his own appeal and grant his motion to dismiss his public defender.

Hill, 41, was sentenced to die in the electric chair for the shotgun slayings of Dr. John Bayard Britton, 69, and his escort, Jim Barrett, 74, last July outside The Ladies Center in Pensacola.

The state Supreme Court agreed with the judge's findings with respect to Hill's competency and voluntary waiver of legal representation. The court, citing a 1975 U.S. Supreme Court decision, said Hill had the right to represent himself at his trial but not in his appeal.

The state Supreme Court is required to review all death sentences.

Cardiologist guilty

in Medicare scam

MIAMI _ A 62-year-old cardiologist pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal conspiracy charge for taking part in a Medicare-fraud scheme that netted two clinics some $4-million.

Under his plea agreement, Dr. Jaime Vergel agreed to testify against fellow defendants and cooperate with investigators. He could receive up to five years at his sentencing Oct. 2.

Prosecutors say Vergel, Maria Lourdes Prohias, 43, and Roberto Sacacas, 53, were involved in an elaborate scheme in which they billed the government for bogus allergy tests and other unneeded or unperformed medical treatments.

Prosecutors say they paid recruiters who brought in patients. Then the trio coached patients over the symptoms to be described so the government would pay top dollar _ nearly $2,000 each. The trio paid unlicensed doctors to "diagnose" conditions and further fraudulently billed the government, prosecutors said.

Prohias' company, Caribmed Care Center, billed Medicare for $1.28-million from 1990 to 1993, and Sacacas' company, C and S Laboratory, billed $2.96-million, according to a federal indictment.

State getting new

Coast Guard chief

MIAMI _ The U.S. Coast Guard's 7th District, busiest in the nation, is getting a new commander.

Rear Adm. Roger T. Rufe Jr. will assume command today from Rear Adm. William P. Leahy, who is retiring after 36 years with the Coast Guard.

Rufe previously headed the 17th District, based in Juneau, Alaska, before being tapped to take over the 7th, which covers Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and 24 countries in the Caribbean.

Leahy assumed command in June 1992 just before Hurricane Andrew and directed the district's all-out efforts in assisting South Florida's massive cleanup and reconstruction after the storm.

Last year, Leahy directed two of the Coast Guard's largest peacetime search-and-rescue missions _ the interdiction of more than 20,000 Haitians and 31,000 Cubans trying to get to Florida.

65 people at camp

suffer illness

FRUITLAND PARK _ At least 65 people at a summer camp here were rushed to three hospitals Thursday night after reporting stomach illnesses, mostly likely caused by contaminated food or water.

Officials said some of the campers and staff at the ACA Camp Geneva near Leesburg had been queasy all day, but a wave of nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain hit between 5 and 6 p.m., shortly after dinner.

A half-dozen ambulances spent a couple of hours shuttling the sick to several area hospitals.

The outbreak began with one adult doubling over in pain. Soon shaky youngsters arrived at a central cabin on foot or in golf carts complaining they felt sick, and more help was called.

The patients were being treated with anti-nausea drugs and were not expected to be admitted, a hospital official said.

More than 350 children ages 6 to 12 were attending the five-day overnight camp, which started Monday. They were from four Christian organizations in Central Florida.

Most of the campers felt fine in the morning, but more became ill as the day wore on, said Jennifer Mallan, director of a group from the South Tampa Christian Center.

Children missing

for 5 years found

JACKSONVILLE _ Two children who vanished with their father five years ago have been found, officials said Thursday.

"I was numb. I screamed a few times," said Marjory Chapell, the children's mother. "It's sinking in slowly."

Assistant State Attorney Lance Day said FBI agents arrested Chapell's ex-husband, Dennis Gray, 38, this week at an undisclosed location outside of Florida.

Day said Gray and the children, Jeffrey, 10, and Kristi, 8, had been living in a trailer in a wooded area without running water or electricity. The children did not attend school.

Gray was using an assumed name and apparently had told the children not to give their real names, Day said. Gray moved often and was tracked to Virginia last year but eluded authorities.

The children remained in protective custody Thursday night. They will receive counseling before being reunited with Ms. Chapell, 37.

"I have the comfort of knowing they're safe. That's wonderful. I haven't had that," she said.

_ Compiled from wire reports.