JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Attorneys who are representing defendants in five high-profile Northeast Florida cases that involve charges of either manslaughter or murder have brought into question their client’s mental competency, and some have requested evaluations.
In Nassau County, William Broyles is facing a possible death penalty. He’s accused of murdering his wife and two grown children. Court records show he’s had three evaluations — and two psychologists have said he’s not competent to stand trial. A mental competency hearing has been scheduled for later this year.
In Jacksonville, Pamela Cabrera is charged with manslaughter in the death of her 5-year-old daughter. Records show she has a history of mental health issues, and the defense has filed a notice that it will present an insanity defense and is asking for a mental competency evaluation.
Leroy Edwards is charged in the murder of a man trying to retrieve a company truck after Edwards was fired from his job. There was a subsequent shootout with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Records show a mental competency evaluation has been ordered.
Terrell Lewis, has been charged in four murders in two separate cases. New filings show one mental competency evaluation has been completed, and the psychologist said he’s not competent for prosecution.
Johnathan Quiles is also facing a possible death penalty. He accused in the murder of his niece, Iyana Sawyer. Court documents reveal he’ll receive a psych evaluation ahead of his trial.
“Often, they will pull in an expert like me, a psychologist or a psychiatrist to render a second or even a third opinion to the court if there is a disagreement about the first one or the first two,” explained Dr. Justin D’Arienzo, a forensic psychologist.
Apart from the cases mentioned above, many other cases exist. D’Arienzo has been called to evaluate a number of defendants who are facing death row.
“Sometimes there’s a contagion in the system where people are talking to each other and they’re using these same pleas. But it’s probably a strategy to delay one’s case,” he explained.
But if the strategy is to delay a case or avoid being sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty — Dr. D’Arienzo noted that only 20% of people are actually found incompetent after an evaluation.
“It says most people are faking being incompetent,” D’Arienzo said.
A mental evaluation can take up to three hours to complete, and in some cases, there’s more than one evaluation performed. And sometimes, there are disagreements over the results of those evaluations, which can slow down the judicial process and delay the case.
D’Arienzo says insanity and incompetency pleas often get a bad name because they’re overused, but he also says it’s a necessary tool because there are defendants who legitimately meet the criteria.
The difference between the two? When a person is incompetent to stand trial, they’re mentally incapable of understanding the legal process against them. An insanity defense is admitting guilt to a crime, but also saying the crime was committed because of a mental illness.
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