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Judge's illness delays competency hearing

Published Aug. 31, 2005

A hearing that could have finally determined if murder suspect Kristina Gaime is mentally competent to stand trial was canceled Thursday when the judge in the case became ill.

Gaime's case, nearly 4 years old, has been on hold over the issue of her mental status. She has been held in a Pasco County jail without bail since shortly after her May 1999 arrest.

No trial date has been set, pending the outcome of her competency status.

Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb was to have heard the results of the latest two court-ordered psychiatric examinations Thursday, along with a bid by Gaime's defense to throw out numerous letters and other items seized during a search of her Land O'Lakes home.

Cobb notified his office Thursday morning he was too ill to attend, and no other judges could be found at the last minute to fill in.

No new date has been set for the hearings.

Gaime, 38, is accused of drugging sons Adam, then 8, and Mathew Rotell, 6, with morphine late April 11 or early April 12, 1999, after a long custody fight with their father. According to investigators, she put the drugged boys in her minivan, directed the van's exhaust into the passenger cabin and got inside with them.

Gaime's parents found her and Adam groggy inside the home the morning of April 12, 1999. Mathew was inside the van, dead.

Gaime is charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder. She has pleaded not guilty.

One of two doctors ordered by the court to bring the court a definitive picture of Gaime's mental health told investigators this week he continues to find her competent for trial after examining her three times.

Dr. Michael Maher also testified that Gaime made incriminating statements to him, despite his warnings that prosecutors and a judge would see his reports.

Maher, in his Tuesday deposition, testified that Gaime is depressed in jail but lucid. He said in his latest exam of her, on Feb. 7, Gaime maintained she had no memory of the April 1999 incident.

But she told a different story in 1999 and 2001 exams, Maher testified.

Maher said in 1999 she appeared to confess.

"She told me the first time I saw her that she remembered killing her son and that she knew that she did that," Maher said. "She couldn't give me a clear moment-by-moment chronologically definite description of events, but she told me that she knew that she did that and she wanted to talk to me about it."

The doctor said that in 2001, Gaime was less clear about her involvement. He quoted her as saying, "If I did this, it was to protect the children."

"She wanted me to understand that she had to protect her children and that this was the only way to protect her children," Maher said at the deposition Tuesday with prosecutor Phil Van Allen and defense attorneys Robert Nutter and Angelo Ferlita.

Maher said Gaime, despite acknowledging that there is substantial evidence against her, insisted in February that her religious faith would see her through and she would not be convicted.

In 2000, her attorneys notified the court they might argue at trial that she was insane at the time because of "severe mental and emotional defects."

Maher said Tuesday he still finds her competent.

"Ms. Gaime made it clear to me that people wouldn't understand that she had to take extreme measures to protect her children, but that she did, and that she had no choice under the circumstance," Maher said.

"And it was because she made that clear to me, I reached the conclusion that she understood what she was doing; she understood that she was taking action to kill her children and that she knew at the time that other people would recognize that as wrong. They wouldn't accept that it was justified," Maher said.

Cobb will consider another doctor's findings in determining if Gaime should go to trial. Dr. Jamie Barron has submitted a sealed report. Other doctors have examined her. In October, Dr. Walter Afield reported to the court that Gaime was not competent.