A 33-year-old Brooksville man on Thursday was found competent to stand trial in the shooting death of his friend.
Joshua Langley is charged with murder in the shooting of Jac'Quez Jones during a dispute on Dec. 4, 2006.
Trial was set for Jan. 11, more than three years after Jones was found with a gunshot to the head at 22330 Whitman Road, just north of Brooksville. Langley fled and was eventually tracked down by authorities in Brunswick, Ga., a city off Interstate 95 halfway between Jacksonville and Savannah, Ga.
He was charged with first-degree murder with a firearm, robbery with a firearm and possession of a firearm by a felon. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty.
In November 2008, Circuit Judge Jack Springstead had ruled that Langley was incompetent to stand trial. The judge temporarily sealed the mental evaluations, though he found that two of the three doctors expressed reservations about Langley's mental status.
Candace Hawthorne, Langley's court-appointed attorney, argued at the time that her client was "seriously ill" and taking antipsychotic drugs.
Since then, Langley has spent much of the past year at the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center in Gainesville, a facility managed by the state's Department of Children and Families. There, Langley underwent treatment to rehabilitate him to a level where he would be able to help with his defense and understand the severity of his charges.
Last month, officials at the facility submitted a report saying Langley was now competent.
"I see the change in him now," Hawthorne said.
On Thursday, Langley, Hawthorne and Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino agreed to accept the facility's report and set dates for a pretrial hearing on Jan. 7 and trial on Jan. 11.
Wearing a red jumpsuit, a gray sweat shirt underneath and handcuffs, Langley asked to address the court.
He apologized for an outburst in court during a competency hearing last year, when he accused the judge and prosecutor of being racists and Hawthorne of being "the daughter of Hitler."
"I wanted to apologize ... for being foolish," Langley said. "I know (Magrino) has got a job to do: uphold the law and seek justice."
Springstead accepted the apology, but Magrino was unmoved.
"He made his comments in the courtroom," Magrino said. "That's all I'll say about that."
But Magrino was pleased the case is finally moving forward, citing the potential difficulties of tracking down witnesses and getting an accurate account of the events that led to Jones' death.
"I want to get the case back on track," Magrino said. "I have to rely on human beings as witnesses. As a result of that, people's memories can sometimes fade with time."
In back of the courtroom, Langley's mother and two sisters showed up to offer support. After the judge's ruling, Langley's sister Clara Langley said she was hoping for the best possible outcome for her youngest brother.
"We believe justice will be served," she said, holding up a small black Bible. "I do see God working on my brother and this case."
Joshua Langley has served eight years in Florida prisons in previous cases and most recently was released in November 2005.
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.