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Wife closes chapter on life with Dukes

NiShea Gilbert gets a one-year protective order and says she has filed for divorce.

By CARRIE WEIMAR and EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published May 31, 2007


PLANT CITY - On the same day a judge barred Elijah Dukes from contacting his wife for a year, NiShea Gilbert began making longer-term plans.

Gilbert said she filed for divorce from the Devil Rays outfielder Wednesday and is looking forward to life on her own.

"The next step is to do what's right for the kids, finalize the divorce and move on from this and close this chapter in my life," she said.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Levens granted Gilbert the protective order after a brief courtroom hearing. He also required the troubled rookie to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before he is allowed to see the two children he fathered with Gilbert.

For Gilbert, 26, it was a small measure of relief after weeks of turmoil.

"I feel a little more comfortable," she said. "But I'm sure I'll still have some rough nights."

Dukes agreed to the terms of the protective order Tuesday night, according to his attorney, Tamara Dudley. He didn't attend the hearing, and Rays team spokesman Chris Costello said he didn't plan to discuss it.

"It's a personal matter, and he is not going to comment further on personal matters," Costello said.

Under the order, Dukes, 22, can't contact Gilbert or come within 500 feet of her, her home and her workplace. If he violates it, Gilbert can contact police and have Dukes arrested.

Gilbert filed for the order May 17, after an April 30 confrontation at Beth Shields Middle School in Ruskin, where she is a teacher. According to court records, Dukes was escorted off school property and warned not to return or face arrest.

Gilbert said Dukes later left a message on her voice mail saying, "You dead, dawg. I ain't even bulls-------. Your kids, too." She said he also sent a picture of a handgun to her cell phone.

The allegations sparked a media frenzy, and a phalanx of television cameras and reporters waited outside the courthouse Wednesday when Gilbert arrived with her mother, Mary, and her attorney, W. Dale Gabbard.

During the hearing, Levens expressed concern about Dukes' mental health. He offered to order a psychiatric evaluation, preferably through the Rays. Both lawyers agreed, but because Dukes is on the 40-man roster, the team would first need to clear hurdles with MLB and the players association in order to facilitate the evaluation.

Levens also barred Dukes from owning any weapons, a standard condition of most protective orders.

Gabbard asked the judge to set a later hearing to determine alimony and child support. After the hearing, Gabbard said he hoped Gilbert and Dukes could work out payments without the court's involvement. In her request for protection, Gilbert had asked for child support and temporary alimony totalling $28,000 per month.

Gilbert said she was pleased Dukes would likely receive psychiatric help.

"I think that's for the best," she said. "He needs to do that before he steps near the kids. He needs help."

This is the second time a judge has granted Gilbert a yearlong order protecting her from Dukes. She received the first on Oct. 28, 2004.

But Gilbert said Dukes contacted her during that time.

"He still gave me a hard time," Gilbert said. "It really is just a piece of paper. Hopefully, this time he'll take it seriously. If he cares about his career, I think he will."

Gilbert gave birth to her second child June 15, 2005, while the order was in effect. She said she became pregnant before getting the order.

Dukes and Gilbert have been married since February 2006. Gilbert first filed for divorce in May 2006 but voluntarily dismissed the petition the next month.

Gilbert said her lawyer submitted divorce papers Wednesday; however, the file wasn't available for review late in the day.

Gilbert said her life lately had been "hell" and she has been inundated with calls from the media.

She said she hasn't been sleeping or eating and was hurt by negative comments people have made about her. But she has also been encouraged by the support others have offered.

"And that helped, especially to know that other people have been through this," Gilbert said.

On Wednesday, Dukes spent the pregame playing cards with teammates in the Rays clubhouse. He started in centerfield and batted leadoff.

Scott Pucino, Dukes' agent, did not return a message for comment Wednesday.

Manager Joe Maddon said he thought Dukes has handled the situation well. He also praised Dukes for issuing a public apology Tuesday for causing a distraction for his family, teammates, fans and the organization.

"I think truly this is the time to move forward," Maddon said. "And now the ball and everything is in his court to put all of this behind himself."

Carrie Weimar can be reached at cweimar@sptimes.com or 813 226-3416.