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    Trial to wait as doctors probe suspect's sanity

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    Revised September 19, 2000

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 13, 2000


    LARGO -- On a night in April 1999, prosecutors say Jessy Joe Roten took his assault rifle and fired at the home of a multiracial couple, killing their 6-year-old girl.

    Roten then fled to the sanctuary of his room, where prosecutors say he scrawled a confession on his bedroom door.

    "Someone had to -- for race and nation. To all my brothers. See you in Valhalla," he wrote. Valhalla is the hall of dead heroes in Scandinavian mythology.

    Prosecutors say Roten, who they call a neo-Nazi skinhead, ended the note with a swastika.

    Roten's trial on a second-degree murder charge, scheduled to open Tuesday, was postponed until at least next month at the request of defense lawyers who want psychiatrists to examine Roten to see whether he is competent to stand trial.

    They also are exploring a possible insanity defense.

    Specifically, defense lawyers want to question a psychiatrist in Texas who examined Roten three or four years ago and might be able to provide them with information about a possible history of mental illness.

    Roten's attorneys say he was twice committed to the psychiatric unit of a Texas hospital for reasons they did not explain.

    The doctor, Bruce Bacca, also might provide an explanation for the racist note Roten left on the inside of his bedroom door, defense lawyer F. Wesley Blankner said in court papers.

    Blankner did not return a call for comment. In court papers, he said Roten provided him with an explanation for the note unrelated to the shooting.

    Blankner, without saying what the explanation is, said he "told Roten that the difficulty with this explanation is that it is not corroborated and is easily attacked as invented for trial."

    But the attorney said his client's "reason for seeing Bacca and the reasons for his (hospital) admissions corroborate his explanation for the so-called confession."

    Prosecutors Bill Loughery and Lydia Wardell think the note is just that -- a confession.

    Someone else viewed it as a confession: George Harvell, Roten's skinhead friend who pleaded guilty last year to a charge that he sold the gun to Roten. He was sentenced to 30 months of probation.

    In a deposition, Harvell said he had frequently visited his friend's room and had never seen the note before.

    "That seems like it's somewhat of a confession," he said. "To me, the only thing that makes sense to me is that he wrote that after he had shot into that house."

    After a fight with his girlfriend, prosecutors say, Roten, now 19, went into an alley near his Lealman-area home just north of St. Petersburg.

    Police say he fired at least 12 shots into the home of Terry Mance, who is black, and his fiancee, Tracy Townsend, who is white.

    A single bullet killed Ashley Mance and wounded her twin sister, Aleesha, and their 4-year-old half-sister, Jailene Jones.

    Prosecutors say Roten's actions were racially motivated. Charged with a hate crime, he faces trial on second-degree murder and two charges of attempted second-degree murder.

    Harvell, 20, said he and Roten once shared the racist view that blacks are inferior to whites, though Harvell said he no longer holds those views.

    "Basically, through the test of time, whites have always seemed to prevail, always seemed to be standing on the top of everything," he said in an Aug. 23 deposition.

    "Just looking into history, obviously, white people had castles. In Africa, they're still building dung huts. ... That, and being kind of preached to by other groups and organizations, kind of gets into your head."

    Harvell said he found it difficult to believe that his friend killed the girl purposely.

    "We also kinda preached to each other that it was stupid to spend your life in prison because of one black guy, who according to your belief is less of a person than you. Why waste your life on his? It's pointless," Harvell said.

    Yahaira Carattini, Ashley's mother, said after the trial delay that Roten's racist views mystify her.

    "I don't understand why he did this," she said. "Now I have nothing to do but wait for justice."

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