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Gaime signals appeal possibility

In prison after taking a plea deal in the 1999 death of her son, she says she wasn't mentally competent when the deal was made.

Published August 11, 2006

DADE CITY - Before finding Kristina Gaime guilty of killing one of her sons and trying to kill the other, Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper sized up the defendant's mental state.

"You certainly appear competent today," Tepper told Gaime on Oct. 5, 2005.

Gaime now says she wasn't.

In a new motion handwritten in prison, the 42-year-old Land O'Lakes mother says she was not mentally competent when she accepted her plea deal in a 1999 murder-suicide plot.

By pleading guilty last year to second-degree murder and second-degree attempted murder, Gaime got a 20-year prison sentence, but she would likely only have to serve up to 12 years. The deal avoided a possible life sentence and spared Gaime's surviving son from having to testify against his mother.

In the midst of a custody dispute with ex-husband Stephen Rotell, Gaime was accused of drugging the boys, ages 6 and 8, loading them into her minivan with her and starting the engine in a closed garage.

Mathew, the younger boy, died. Adam, now 15, survived.

Before Tepper accepted the plea, she grilled Gaime about her mental history, medications she was taking and whether she understood what she was doing.

"Yes, ma'am," Gaime repeatedly said.

The judge also questioned Gaime's attorneys from Barry Cohen's powerful Tampa firm.

"She's going to enter a plea of guilty in her best interest," Lyann Goudie told the judge.

After an hour, the hearing ended. Gaime was fingerprinted and led to prison.

Months later, she did a turnaround. In April, she wrote from her Ocala prison signaling her intention to fight the plea deal but never said why.

This latest motion, filed in a peripheral matter in the criminal case, provides her rationale.

Gaime, referring to herself in the third-person as the "defendant," says she is seeking "post-conviction remedies because she believes ... that she was not competent to stand trial and was not mentally competent at the time she entered a voluntary plea."

It's the first mention of using mental incompetency as grounds for appeal. Gaime wrote that "discovery records" led her to this new realization.

The attorney for Gaime's ex-husband and surviving son isn't buying it.

"I think the fact that she's challenging the plea deal- that was the deal of the century - means she is mentally incompetent now, not then," Kennan Dandar said. "She should be very happy with that plea deal."

Thursday, Tepper said she tried to be thorough in Gaime's hearing in anticipation of an appeal.

"It's my policy to investigate the issues very carefully," Tepper said.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said the judge and Gaime's own attorneys would have known if she were mentally incompetent that day.

"I think it's just one of those situations where you have pleader's remorse," he said.

Legally, Gaime has a tough road ahead, said Robert Batey, a professor of criminal law at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport.

"It's common for these types of claims to be made," he said. "It's uncommon for them to succeed."

Gaime's April motion prompted Cohen's firm to ask a judge to remove it from the case. In this latest motion, Gaime claims the firm is still "ethically bound" to represent her in a dispute over property seized during the criminal investigation.

That's another sign Gaime might challenge her plea deal on mental competency grounds, the professor said, rather than claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. Otherwise, the firm could not remain on the case, as Gaime has requested.

A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 31.

[Last modified August 11, 2006, 06:50:50]

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