This time, it was Joseph Bova himself who made the strongest case for his competency and to proceed to trial: “I’m definitely competent, sir,” Bova told the judge. “I’ve been competent for several months. I’ve been to those [state psychiatric] hospitals, there’s no need for me to go back to those hospitals, it’s a big waste of time.”
It was as if Bova himself has tired of the way this case has dragged for so long.
Six years after he was charged with the first-degree murder of Zuheily Roman Rosado at the Mobil convenience store on State Road 100 in Palm Coast, Bova was yet again back in court this morning for a hearing to determine his competency to stand trial. And yet again he was found competent to proceed despite his attorneys’ attempt to convince the court that he does not understand the gravity of his case.
Bova was found competent to proceed in previous years only to “decompensate,” or regress, psychologically, to the point where he had to be sent back to a state psychiatric hospital and judged incompetent to stand trial. This time, Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, the fourth judge to hear the case, appears as determined as Bova to hold a trial.
Despite his concerns, Perkins ruled to that effect after a three-hour hearing that featured the testimonies of three experts, two of whom considered Bova competent, one of whom did not, and of Bova himself, who on two occasions during the hearing sought to fire Josh Mosley, his lead attorney and public defender. The reason: Mosley was seeking to have Bova found incompetent.
But the judge said he would reverse himself if Bova were to not cooperate with his attorneys and doctors seeking to evaluate him from here on.
A trial date will be set in early September, possibly for Sept. 16, though defense attorneys are asking for more time. “Time is not our friend,” Perkins said. “Let’s proceed with all due speed.”
Bova’s courtroom antics, conscious or not, are not unusual. He has previously threatened a judge’s life, claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy by law enforcement, and sought to represent himself. Today’s behavior was only mildly unusual in comparison.
Bova looked disheveled, his hair and beard overgrown and scraggly. He had apparently not bathed in many days: his attorneys spoke of his “odor.” He was not brushing his teeth. His eyes were puffed out, making his face look so distorted, as it had the last time he was in court, that the judge asked him: “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“Allergies,” Bova said. One of the doctors who testified–Joseph Sesta, who considers him incompetent–said he could not explain the distorted face and had not seen it in his experience.
Bova wants to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. He thought he could work out a plea with prosecutors. The judge told him that may not be in the cards (it isn’t). “Then I’d plead NGI and take the trial,” Bova said, using the acronym for “not guilty by reason of insanity.”
Sesta during his testimony revealed to the court that Bova had been involved in a severe crash: he was riding a bike when he was 13 and struck by a vehicle going at 50 miles per hour. Sesta said Bova was unconscious for at least 10 minutes at the scene of the crash before paramedics arrived. Though Bova walked out of the hospital the next day with what was found to have been a concussion, Sesta said the crash may have triggered a predisposition to schizophrenia and other mental issues. His psychiatric hospitalizations began when he was 14 and 15, continuing after that. There’s no question about his diagnosis as a schizophrenic.
The question this morning revolved around his ability to understand that he’s charged with first degree murder, that he understands the divide between defense and prosecution, the adversarial nature of the proceedings and the potential heavy penalty–up to life in prison–he faces if found guilty.
Sesta didn’t think Bova understood all that. “He seems oblivious to the adversarial nature of the legal process,” he said, referring to how Bova in court even today tried to strike a plea with the prosecution, apparently thinking he could walk out a free man if he was found insane at the time of the murder.
That day in February 2013, Bova walked into the Mobil Mart convenience store, walked to the counter, and shot Rosado several times, execution style. He then walked out. The shooting was captured on surveillance video. Bova had covered his face. But he had been in the store earlier, uncovered, and wearing the same clothes. His motive for the shooting has never been known.
He was last found competent to stand trial in February by the state psychiatric hospital where he’d been held most of the past six years. Perkins was ready to set a trial date. But Bova’s attorneys in May, after Bova had been transferred to the Flagler County jail, argued that he had “decompensated” and was no longer fit for trial. That led to today’s hearing, repeating the see-saw maneuvers that have had Bova in and out of court, in and out of the psychiatric hospital, for the past six years.
“I continue to believe that Mr Bova is not competent to proceed on the current charges,” Sesta said.
Darah Granger, a clinical psychologist, and Roger Davis, a forensic psychologist, disagreed. Granger testified by phone and Davis in person that Bova was following directions, was largely aware and appreciative of the case and its ramifications, behaves in court, and could stand trial. “I didn’t see any evidence that he was feigning incompetence,” Davis told the court. Bova had been suspected of feigning incompetence in the past–before his own insistence that he is now ready to proceed.
Mosley in his argument to the court described a Bova oblivious to his surroundings, apathetic in his cell, taking his medicines but at irregular hours, refusing to step out, to meet with doctors or to eat his meals, and decompensating to the point of being incompetent.
Mark Johnson, the prosecutor, described Bova as he was in court today–answering questions and understanding what was asked of him–and relied on the experts’ testimonies to conclude that Bova was “in fact competent.”
It was up to the defense to meet the burden of proof to show that Bova was incompetent. “I find that he is competent to proceed,” Perkins said, “although I myself have concerns.” After making his determination, the judge urged Bova to cooperate with his attorneys, and said that if Bova were “incapable” of doing so, “then I would reconsider my determination of competency in this case.”