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Ruling on sex crime defendant criticized

An appellate court says a judge went too far by committing Joseph Roddenberry to Chattahoochee.

Published March 20, 2005

Two years ago, Circuit Judge Ric Howard sent Joseph Roddenberry to a secure treatment facility. Roddenberry was mildly retarded, prompting two experts to determine he was mentally incompetent to stand trial for sex crimes.

On Friday, the 5th District Court of Appeal said Howard went too far.

The reason: There was no "substantial probability" that Roddenberry was capable of responding to treatment to the point that he could become competent, the appellate court said.

Absent that hope, the court ruled, Howard shouldn't have involuntarily - and indefinitely - committed Roddenberry to the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee.

In fact, the "inability to restore" competence requires the judge to dismiss the criminal charges altogether or the state to consider seeking civil commitment of Roddenberry, the court ruled.

If it sought civil commitment, the state could try to invoke the Jimmy Ryce Act, which allows indefinite detainment of violent sexual predators who are deemed likely to re-offend. People held under this act are housed in a secure treatment facility for sex offenders in Arcadia.

Jane C. Almy-Loewinger, the assistant public defender who represented Roddenberry on appeal, said she called the Public Defender's Office in Citrus on Friday with word of the appellate decision.

That office will set a hearing for Roddenberry, where Howard can revisit his ruling in light of what the appellate court said.

The lawyer said she hoped her client would be released from Chattahoochee.

But it's still unclear where he would go if that happened.

Even if the charges aren't dismissed, Roddenberry would have to be deemed mentally competent before he ever stood trial.

Law officers said Roddenberry pulled down the pants of a 5-year-old girl and rubbed against her in 1995. Roddenberry initially denied any involvement, but he later told a detective that "he did not mean to do it" and that he was very sorry, court records showed.

He also wrote an apology letter to the victim, an arrest report said.

Another girl said Roddenberry removed her pants and performed a sexual act on her sometime in 1994, when she was 7.

According to an arrest report, Roddenberry admitted the offense.

At the time of the alleged assaults, Roddenberry was a teenager. The prosecution didn't begin until 2003 because the girls didn't come forward with their allegations until 2002, court records showed.

Because of the seriousness of the crimes, there was no statute of limitations. The State Attorney's Office was prosecuting Roddenberry as an adult, and he faced up to life in prison if convicted of three counts of sexual battery.

But Roddenberry never got to trial. His IQ was between 50 and 60, and the defense arranged for experts to evaluate his competency - his ability to understand the legal process and assist in his own defense.

Two experts said Roddenberry was incompetent to stand trial and recommended "supervised release with some type of competency training," the appellate court wrote.

Despite those recommendations, Howard ordered Roddenberry to Chattahoochee.

"Maybe another team of doctors can look him over. Meanwhile, he's safe from himself and his own impulses," the judge said at the time.

But state law says that such commitment isn't allowed unless "there is a substantial probability that the retardation or autism causing the defendant's incompetence will respond to training and the defendant will regain competency to proceed in the reasonably foreseeable future."

"This is a critical finding which is essential to commitment, and without such a finding, the order cannot be sustained on appeal," the appellate court wrote.

Howard's decision was based, at least in part, on a concern that there was no one and no place that could supervise Roddenberry if he were released, the appellate court said.

Judge Jacqueline Griffin wrote the opinion; fellow judges Emerson R. Thompson Jr. and William D. Palmer concurred.

[Last modified March 20, 2005, 01:07:24]

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