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Family says murderer is severely mentally ill

Attorneys argue their client should be resentenced because of the incompetence of trial lawyers more than a decade ago.

By JAMIE MALERNEE

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


TAMPA -- Todd Mendyk was a quiet child who immersed himself in books and fantasy, withdrawing from an abusive stepfather and turning to drugs as he grew older and his mental problems became more pronounced.

So said family members of the death row inmate on Wednesday, a day that marked their first opportunity to speak on his behalf nearly 13 years after he was convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering a Spring Hill convenience clerk.

Mendyk's lawyers are arguing that those and other details about Mendyk's severe mental illness should have come out long ago. They want his death sentence overturned on the basis of inadequate counsel during the sentencing phase of his trial.

Hernando County public defender Alan Fanter has defended his actions while representing Mendyk, saying he did the best he could with a client who told him he wanted to die in the electric chair and said he had no remorse about the crime. Fanter said Tuesday that an investigator had contacted Mendyk's mother, Gloria, to testify, but that she "was unwilling or unable."

That's not what Mrs. Mendyk remembers. She testified Wednesday that if contacted, she would have "done anything" she could.

When asked why she has gone to visit her son only once since his sentencing, Mrs. Mendyk broke into tears.

"It was hard for me to see Todd and then have to leave. It felt like I left a piece of me there, and I didn't know if I could do that again," she said.

Mendyk's sister, Tina Woodfaulk, said her brother abused drugs and alcohol every day near the time of the crime, smoked marijuana like cigarettes and drank as much as a liter of liquor to get drunk.

A neuropharmacologist called by Mendyk's attorneys later testified that this chronic use of drugs in "ferociously large quantities" damaged Mendyk's brain and reduced his memory and impulse control. The expert, Jonathan Lipman, said the marijuana also magnified Mendyk's delusions that women were made to be sex slaves and that if he raped a woman she would come to worship him and bond with him for life.

The state has countered that these ideas were sick fantasies that Mendyk knew were wrong.

Another expert psychologist, Henry Dee, testified that because Mendyk's mother never stopped Mendyk's stepfather's abuse, Mendyk developed a hidden rage that she had picked the stepfather as her favorite and abandoned him. This rage was likely a factor in the sexual sadistic mental illness that he developed, in which he can receive satisfaction only from torturing women, he said.

Lawyers for the state tried to discredit this testimony by questioning that Mendyk told police he was not intoxicated during the crime in April 1987, that Mendyk might now be exaggerating the drug effects to help his case, and by pointing out the deliberate nature of the murder. Lee Ann Larmon was strangled in some woods off U.S. 19 while she was tied to a tree after three hours of torture.

Wednesday marked the second day in which Mendyk's attorneys argued that their client should be resentenced because of trial lawyers' incompetence. Mendyk previously filed such a written complaint, but it was turned down with out a hearing in 1991. In 1989, attorneys tried to appeal the conviction, hoping to argue that Mendyk's three confessions were illegally obtained, but the U.S. Supreme Court denied the appeal.

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