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Murderer may draw nearer his goal: death

After a hearing Wednesday, a judge will decide if Newton Slawson is competent in demanding a quick execution for his 1989 crime.

On death row for 10 years, convicted murderer Newton C. Slawson has one request: Execute me sooner rather than later.

On Wednesday, Slawson could move one step closer to having that wish granted.

A hearing, originally scheduled for Monday, will help Hillsborough Circuit Judge Rex Barbas determine if Slawson is legally competent.

If so, Slawson can dismiss his lawyers and represent himself, which will put him in a better position to fast-track his way to the execution chamber.

If not, Slawson's lawyers likely will file the regular appeals, which could delay the execution for years.

"I'd like to just turn the whole thing off, (get) in the chair and be done with it," Slawson has said in the past.

Slawson was arrested in 1989 after slaughtering an entire east Tampa family. Peggy and Gerald Wood, casual acquaintances of Slawson, were shot in their apartment along with their son Glendon, 3, and daughter Jennifer, 4.

Mrs. Wood, who was 8{ months pregnant with another son, also was stabbed and her stomach was sliced open, but she somehow crawled next door to tell her mother "Newt did it" before she died. At the time, one veteran homicide detective called it "absolutely . . . the worst murder I've ever worked."

Slawson put up no defense at his trial the next year. Since his conviction on first-degree murder charges, Slawson has sought an early execution. At his various hearings, he also has objected to the presence of his court-appointed lawyers.

Two years ago, a local judge granted Slawson's request to end his appeals.

The Florida Supreme Court, however, ruled that Slawson should first be psychologically evaluated to determine if he is mentally competent to make such a decision.

Two doctors submitted reports that said Slawson, 45, was indeed mentally competent, while a third said he was not.

After reading the reports, a judge ruled that Slawson was mentally competent to freely and voluntarily waive his rights and again granted Slawson's request.

The Supreme Court ruled, however, that the doctors should testify at an open court hearing.

Last month, Barbas heard from the two doctors who found Slawson to be legally competent. The third doctor will testify Wednesday. Barbas will make the final decision after hearing all the testimony.

Assistant State Attorney Sharon Vollrath, who once called a Slawson hearing one of the strangest she had ever witnessed, said Monday that there is no way of knowing for sure what Slawson is up to. Maybe he wants to die, she said. On the other hand, his requests might be a ploy for attention or to slow the system down.

"We'll see," she said. "He seems pretty determined."

Despite Slawson's previous objections, a lawyer from the state's Capital Collateral Counsel, which represents death row inmates, also will attend Wednesday's hearing. Mark Gruber said Monday that at the judge's request he will outline reasons why Slawson should not be allowed to represent himself.

That is something that is sure to upset Slawson.

"After living in a cage for eight years there simply comes a time when death is a release, not a punishment," he said at a past hearing.

_ Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or