After 11 years, a conviction brings closure
By LEANORA MINAI, Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG -- For 11 years, Judi Mapp and Paula Reinhardt waited for the man who killed their 73-year-old mother to go on trial.
Months ticked by. Grandchildren married, and divorced. Two great-grandchildren were born. The crime scene technician who matched the suspect's fingerprints died.
All the while, Terry Rue, the suspect in Annetta Reinhardt's murder, was repeatedly declared incompetent to understand the first-degree murder charge. Seven times over 11 years, he returned to Pinellas County, only to be sent back to a psychiatric ward.
Until last month.
Twelve men and women, who nearly deadlocked, concluded Rue climbed through Reinhardt's window and literally scared the asthmatic preschool teacher to death in 1991.
The jurors convicted Rue of second-degree murder. On July 15, he was sentenced to life in prison.
"There were times I thought we'd never see the end of it," said Mapp, 58, who lives in Alabama.
What kept Mapp and her sister going were childhood memories with their mom -- fishing at the Pier and snacking on hot doughnuts and chocolate milk at downtown lunch counters.
Their mother's murder shocked their First United Methodist Church community and the Coquina Key neighborhood where Annetta Reinhardt lived after her husband died.
At 73, Mrs. Reinhardt babysat infants and school-age children at the downtown St. Petersburg church. She lulled boys and girls to sleep in a rocker and turned pine cones into bird feeders.
"She knew every individual child and what would work with that child," said Janet Shoaf, 51, director of the First United Methodist Church day care. "She knew if their pants were wet, their potty schedule."
Terry Rue, then 34, had just gotten out of jail and was living with his mother a few blocks from Mrs. Reinhardt's house. He could not read or write. His father was dead, and his two brothers were in prison.
On Sept. 20, between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., Rue's hankering for cash and a car brought him and Mrs. Reinhardt together.
She was in her bedroom on Neptune Drive SE. The radio was on. Rue went to a jalousie window, removed the three bottom panes, cut the screen and crawled into the kitchen.
Inside, Rue made his way toward the light in a bedroom, where he confronted Mrs. Reinhardt. She was dressed in a pink house dress with white polka dots. Frightened, she clutched her chest.
"Take what you want," Mrs. Reinhardt told him.
Rue left a few gold rings and a Timex watch, but took from her purse the keys to her 1990 Nissan Sentra and $3.
Detectives say Rue also sexually assaulted her on the bedroom floor, though he denied that.
"You just wonder, why?" said Paula Reinhardt, 57, a bookkeeper for a St. Petersburg law firm. "How could anybody do that?"
Mrs. Reinhardt was found dead after the attack.
Two days later, Rue was arrested. On the way to the Pinellas County Jail on Sept. 22, 1991, Rue told police, "I'm a sick person."
Doctors, citing Mrs. Reinhardt's asthma and heart disease, said the stress of the home invasion and assault caused her death.
A month after the attack, Oct. 5, 1991, prosecutors announced they would seek a first-degree murder conviction under a law allowing that charge when a victim dies during the commission of a felony. But no one predicted justice would take 11 years.
"I've never had anything like that," said Frank Migliore Jr., a 16-year assistant state attorney who got the case in 1991.
Migliore, worried that witnesses would die before the case got to trial, got permission from a judge to videotape witness testimony.
Even Dudley Clapp, Rue's public defender, said the bulk of cases with competency issues go to trial fairly quickly.
What took so long?
In April 1992, three independent doctors were appointed to evaluate Rue. They found him incompetent, saying he was unable to fathom the charge.
Doctors at Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee said Rue heard voices. The voices told him to kill himself, tear apart his radio, curse his roommate.
"This is a man of low intellect who's psychotic," hospital psychiatrist Dr. Robert Berland said in court papers.
Several months passed. Hospital doctors examined Rue again. This time, the medicated Rue was able to stand trial. A judge ordered him to the Pinellas County Jail. Then the three doctors evaluated him.
"Incompetent," they found.
The decision usually broke down with two doctors saying Rue could not stand trial; the other doctor said Rue could.
"It was a difference of opinion," said Clapp, the public defender, who plans to appeal the conviction.
Rue would return to Chattahoochee or another mental health facility. This cycle repeated itself over and over again for 11 years.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Reinhardt's two daughters longed for closure. Frustrated, they argued with attorneys. They squirmed when they saw Rue rocking back and forth in the courtroom before the judge, and then giggling when the judge left the chamber.
"I always thought he was faking it," said Paula Reinhardt, a Madeira Beach resident.
Last month, Rue stood trial because he was taking the right combination of medicine. During jury deliberations, 11 jurors wanted to convict him of first-degree murder. Another juror held out.
"Can you imagine if it was a hung jury after 11 years, and we had to come back and do it again?" asked Migliore, the prosecutor.
Convicted of second-degree murder, Rue could have been free in several years because of time served. At sentencing, though, a worried Migliore presented the judge with Rue's past: 10 misdemeanors and arrests for burglary and rape.
The judge labeled Rue a habitual offender and announced he would spend the rest of his life in prison.
In the courtroom, Paula Reinhardt squeezed her daughter's knee and whispered, "We got it."
Then, with tears in her eyes, she stretched over a railing and hugged the prosecutor.
-- Times researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.
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