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Decision delayed in death wish case

Convicted murderer Newton Slawson came to court Wednesday hoping that a judge would find him competent to represent himself, a finding that would hasten his execution.

The hearing, however, was cut short when the judge decided that the participants did not have all the necessary prison records detailing Slawson's medical, psychiatric and disciplinary history.

"I have to act cautiously," said Circuit Judge Rex Barbas. "It's a death penalty case."

Slawson, 45, was arrested in 1989 after slaughtering an entire east Tampa family. Peggy and Gerald Wood, casual acquaintances of Slawson's, were shot in their apartment, along with their son, Glendon, 3, and their 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.

Since his conviction for first-degree murder, Slawson has said several times in court that he wants to waive his appeals and get on with the execution. Although local judges have granted his requests to represent himself and waive his appeals, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Slawson must undergo psychiatric evaluations and that the evaluators must testify in court.

Last month, two of the doctors testified that Slawson is legally competent to represent himself. The third doctor, psychiatrist Michael Maher, testified Tuesday that he thinks Slawson is incompetent. Maher said Slawson suffers from delusions and has a paranoid personality, thinking that all lawyers are out to sabotage his wishes.

Maher said he probably would have found Slawson competent if Slawson had agreed to have an attorney help him navigate the legal system. On his own, however, the delusions and paranoia would prevent him from understanding exactly what was happening to him, Maher said.

During the testimony, Maher mentioned that Slawson had told him about some minor disciplinary problems he has had while on death row and that those details played a small role as he arrived at his conclusion.

Slawson explained to the judge that the disciplinary reports were about two attempted assaults on guards and disobeying a guard's order.

After some discussion, Barbas decided he and the lawyers should see any written reports so that they can analyze the contents and ask any appropriate questions. He rescheduled the hearing for Sept. 27.

Prosecutor Sharon Vollrath agreed with the judge's decision. If Barbas ruled on Slawson's competency without having all the information available, the Supreme Court could overturn the decision.

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

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