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Trial begins amid strange actions

A man charged with raping and kidnapping a woman in 1996 earns a reputation.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001

DADE CITY -- After five years, eight lawyers, a history of bizarre jail-house behavior and repeated psychiatric evaluations, Gene Randolf Szeremi is scheduled to face a jury today on charges he raped and kidnapped a Land O'Lakes woman.

Since his 1996 arrest, Szeremi, 30, has become a minor courthouse celebrity known for being weird. On Monday, Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson refused to let the case drag on any longer despite more of Szeremi's unusual behavior.

In previous court hearings, doctors have described how while in jail Szeremi has smeared himself with feces, attempted suicide, flung toilet water, exposed himself, masturbated and shown up for an exam in nothing but a cape.

He has fired seven previous court-appointed attorneys and spent months in a state mental hospital, only to be declared competent and returned to jail.

During a 1999 court hearing, Szeremi stood up unexpectedly and tried to reach into the crotch of his pants. Earlier this year, he spit on a newspaper photographer.

Szeremi, facing life in prison without parole if convicted, submitted a motion Friday to fire his eighth lawyer, Keith Hammond. On Monday he told the judge that Hammond has spent a total of 45 minutes with him during two visits.

Swanson, who wasn't convinced two years ago that Szeremi was crazy, wasn't impressed by the latest distraction.

"Mr. Szeremi, you are using the system. I'm not going to allow you to use the system anymore," the judge said. "You can't pull this off anymore. . . . Now is your day."

Swanson said Szeremi's remaining option was to fire Hammond and represent himself.

A few minutes later, Szeremi announced in court, "Yeah, I'll take a pizza."

Swanson questioned him, and Szeremi added, "Yeah, Jesus is here."

Hammond suggested another psychiatric exam. Swanson rejected the idea.

Hammond continued to represent Szeremi through jury selection Monday, and Szeremi appeared to cooperate during discussions of which potential jurors to select.

Szeremi's mother and stepfather, Glada and Emory Garland, said Monday that Szeremi isn't faking. His moods are affected by medication, they said.

Their concern, they said, is that he is being railroaded through the criminal justice system by defense lawyers who refuse to spend time with him preparing the case.

During his incarceration, Szeremi, a plumber, lost all parental rights to his two daughters and lost any money or property he owned, his mother said.

Szeremi is accused of attacking a Land O'Lakes woman he knew in June 1996 after climbing through her bathroom window armed with a handgun.

Investigators say Szeremi stalked the woman and that when he broke into her home, he handcuffed her and threatened to kill her if she screamed. For several hours he sexually assaulted her, and at one point he placed the muzzle of a gun against the cheek of the woman's 9-month-old daughter and threatened to kill her, authorities reported.

After several hours, according to investigators, Szeremi forced the woman into her car and told her he planned to kill her and dispose of her body. He later let her go, deputies said.

On Monday, Szeremi turned down the chance to plead guilty in exchange for a 25-year sentence. Taking into account state sentencing rules and the five years he has served in jail, Szeremi would have been eligible for release in about 16 years, Hammond said.

A jury of four men and two women is scheduled to hear opening arguments this morning.

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