Where to house 97-year-old accused of murder?

Defense lawyers argue against another mental evaluation

Author: Elizabeth Cate, General assignment reporter, ecate@wjxt.com
Published On: Oct 03 2012 12:02:36 PM EDT   Updated On: Oct 04 2012 08:35:54 AM EDT
ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -

The 97-year-old woman accused of killing her nephew last year is back in the St. Johns jail after a hearing Wednesday afternoon in which lawyers argued over whether or not she needs another mental evaluation.

Amanda Stevenson is accused of murder in the death of 53-year-old John Rice -- shooting him in the chest while he was lying in bed.

Declared "incompetent to stand trial" after previous mental evaluations, Stevenson has remained in legal limbo for months. At her last court appearance, the judge ordered another evaluation to determine where she should be housed.

Stevenson sat in a wheelchair in court Wednesday, listening quietly as attorneys debated what to do with her.

"I know that (defense attorney) Mr. (Ray) Warren doesn't want her competency questioned again because he doesn't want to have to try this case, he wants her to get out of jail, and I understand, that's his job," prosecutor Robert Mathis said.

"If she has to be tried, she has to be tried. That's not the issue," Warren said.

Already evaluated by five doctors, the judge is allowing a more narrow assessment of Stevenson's mental health under a different set of guidelines that both attorneys hope encompasses dementia.

"The problem is, dementia is not defined in the statutes, so I'm not even certain, nor do I believe the state is even certain where dementia falls," Warren said. "Even if she doesn't have dementia we still have to explore that issue."

Stevenson's defense team argues her competency should not be in question because the judge already declared her incompetent to stand trial. But the prosecution believes this next exam should be fully comprehensive.

"If only one aspect is looked at by any mental health professional, it doesn't give any guidance to the court or any of us as to what can be done with this lady," Mathis said.

Neither side seems to be convinced the new evaluation will provide a final answer.

"So what's the solution here?" Warren said. "Well, the solution would be for the Legislature to come in and give the judge guidance on -- after having hearings and writing a statutory scheme that deals with people who have dementia."

For now, Stevenson remains in jail.