At the end of the second day of Bruce Haughton’s trial for assisted suicide earlier this week, after Haughton and the jury had left the room, Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, as is his habit, asked the lawyers if there was anything else to take up. There was, Assistant Public Defender Matt Phillips told him, and it had nothing to do with the trial.
It had to do with Joseph Bova, the name–and the case–most associated at court with perplexity, reversals, delays and even strange courtroom (and jail) behavior since Bova was charged in the first-degree murder of Zuheily Roman Rosado at the Mobil convenience store on State Road 100 in Palm Coast six years ago.
Bova, 31, is a schizophrenic. His symptoms are controlled–when on medication. He has since shuttled between competency and incompetency, between the Flagler County jail and a state hospital in Macclenny, and between a not-guilty plea and an insanity defense that concedes he did the killing, but that he was not in his right mind at the time.
Earlier this year, doctors at the state hospital, which is administered by the Department of Children and Families, declared him once again competent to stand trial, and slated him to be transferred out of the hospital. It happened before: the court found him competent to proceed. Dates were set. And not long afterward, Bova “decompensated,” meaning his grip on reality deteriorated again, causing his lawyers to seek an incompetency judgment.
This time there was a twist. In early April Assistant State Attorney Mark Johnson, who is prosecuting the case, filed a motion requesting that Bova be ordered to take his medication, and to be forced to take it by Flagler County Sheriff’s detention deputies or their designee while at the jail, “if necessary.” Johnson did so because on previous occasions when Bova was sent back to the county jail as a competent individual, he would refuse to take his meds.
“The State has consulted with the director of the Flagler Co. Detention Center as well as representatives with [Stewart Marchman Act] Healthcare regarding an appropriate procedure to maintain [Bova’s] competency until this case can be resolved,” Johnson wrote in his April 8 motion. “Following that consultation, the State believes that the most appropriate, if not the only, approach going forward is to authorize the Flagler Co. jail or any medical designee to forcibly administer to the defendant any psychotropic medications that have been prescribed to him for the purpose of treating his schizophrenia or any other mental illness in order to maintain his competency.”
Two days later, Perkins signed the order. It was unequivocal, authorizing the “Sheriff’s Office or Medical Designee to Forcibly Administer Prescription Psychotropic Medications.” (The capital letters are in the original order.) The next day, Perkins signed another order finding Bova competent to proceed to trial. Docket sounding, the last step before trial, was scheduled for June 25, with trial itself likely set for one of the following weeks shortly after that.
In mid-May, the defense filed its witness list, which included An and Henry Bova–Joseph’s parents, who live in Connecticut, where Joseph grew up and spent most of his life until he traveled to Florida. He was known as Joey to his family and friends.
Tuesday afternoon, when Phillips brought up the case to Perkins again, Phillips said a defense doctor had gone to see him that day, and Bova refused to so much as turn around in his bed–and was decompensating again. Bova was not leaving his jail cell. He had refused to speak with his attorney about his case, to prepare for trial.
His attorney is actually Assistant Public Defender Joshua Mosley, who described three failed interactions with Bova in his request for yet another declaration of incompetency. “The first time [Bova] remained lethargic and stared straight ahead without speaking,” Mosley wrote in his “suggestion of mental incompetence” on Tuesday. The second time Bova met with Mosley for just 30 minutes before ending the interview and declaring himself tired. But during the interview he’d been “unable to meaningfully answer” Mosley’s questions about the “incident.” Earlier that day, Mosley and Stephen Bloomfield, a physician, attempted to see Bova for an evaluation, but he refused to come out of his cell. He “remained on his bunk, facing the wall, and would only mumble responses to counsel about how he does not feel well.”
There’s been one documented incident involving Bova at the jail since he was booked back in there on April 29. The morning of May 3 at 6:05, according to an incident report, the usual evening head count was announced in H-block (short for “Hotel Block,” in jail coding), where Bova is being held. Bova remained in his cell, “lying in his bunk appearing to be asleep.” He was given several more orders to get up and show his wristband, according to the report. He did not comply. A “corrective consultation” was warranted.
As Phillips was updating Perkins that late afternoon, Perkins signed the order for yet another evaluation of mental competence. Neither Phillips nor Perkins mentioned the order forcing Bova to be medicated, though Phillips later told a reporter that it’s not just a matter of medication. In a state hospital, patients are constantly managed, occupied, placed through various activities. At the jail, it’s confinement in a very small space, where even people in fair mental order can have serious issues. There are no supervised activities.
But more details have since come to light that, in the prosecution’s view, point to Bova manipulating the system rather than decompensating.
On April 5, Dr. William Meadows, a psychologist retained by the prosecution, traveled to the state hospital in Macclenny for a sanity evaluation of Bova in the presence of Mosley. But 45 minutes into the evaluation, Bova “abruptly announced an end to the evaluation,” a new motion by the state reads, “declined to answer any more of Dr. Meadows’ questions, then left the room and refused to participate any further.” Because he had recently been found to be competent, the prosecution “has reasonable grounds to believe that [Bova’s] refusal to submit to Dr. Meadows’ examination was not the result of any competency issues, but was a deliberate effort to prevent the State from fully exploring the merits of his asserted claim of insanity.”
The prosecution’s latest motion is to compel a new evaluation of Bova or, alternately, to preclude his lawyers from using the insanity defense “if [Bova] persists in his refusal to voluntarily submit to the evaluation.”
Perkins has ordered the evaluation, but the alternate part of the state’s motion will have to wait for that evaluation’s results to be addressed.