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Suspect in rape of retarded woman ruled unfit for trial

By Associated Press
Published October 26, 2003

ORLANDO - A 75-year-old man accused of raping and impregnating a severely retarded woman, touching off a heated debate over fetal rights, may never stand trial after a judge ruled he is mentally incompetent.

Phillip Strong, whose wife owned the care home where the alleged assault took place, is not capable of comprehending the significance of the court proceedings, according to two of three court-appointed doctors. They said he suffers from dementia.

Judge C. Alan Lawson issued his ruling Friday, but ordered more testing of Strong to determine whether his condition, if treated, could improve to where he could stand trial.

Strong's lawyer, Jeffrey S. Kaufman Jr., likened Strong's condition to Alzheimer's disease and predicted it will not improve.

"You're not going to fix somebody at 75 years old who has these problems," Kaufman said. "I'm surprised he remembers me every time I see him. It's not like he's just old. This man, he's not there. He's in and out."

Strong, who was in the courtroom and sat silently by his lawyer, is out of jail on bail. Lawson said Strong should remain on home confinement until the next court date, tentatively Nov. 14.

At that time, Lawson will decide whether Strong should be sent to a psychiatric hospital for treatment or let him live at home while being treated.

The judge has five years to determine whether Strong can be successfully treated to allow him to stand trial on a first-degree felony charge of sexual battery on a mentally defective person. If not, Lawson must dismiss the case.

Strong was arrested in September, days after the birth of a girl to the disabled woman identified only by her initials of J.D.S.

Also arrested was Strong's wife, 73-year-old Hester Strong, who was the owner of the state-licensed home, which was run out of their home. It has since been shut down. Hester Strong was charged with neglect of a mentally defective person, a second-degree felony.

Before the birth of the child, Gov. Jeb Bush pushed for a guardian to be appointed for the fetus because the mother was unable to provide for its well-being. A judge refused, but a woman who asked to be the guardian appealed, backed by the state.

Abortion rights advocates accused the Bush administration of pushing the case to try and open the door to broadly appointing guardians for fetuses, possibly as a means to stop abortions.

The case is currently under review by the 5th District Court of Appeal. A ruling could be issued as late as next spring.

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