For all the voices Joseph Bova II heard or didn’t hear on his way to murdering Zuheily Roman Rosado on a February night six and a half years ago at a Palm Coast convenience store, the only voice he heard early this afternoon in a Flagler County courtroom, the only voice anyone heard at 2 p.m., was that of Deputy Court Clerk Samantha Barker, reading the verdict: guilty of first degree murder.
Rosado’s family, including her children and her mother, had attended most of the trial. Some had stood hands clasped as if in prayer when the jury was filing in, then pumped their fists at the sound of the word “guilty,” and cried.
Brian Sheridan, the bailiff assigned to guard Bova since trial began last Monday, was already standing by him, Sheridan’s hands on the manacles that he immediately took out and locked on Bova’s wrists. Bova is used to manacles. He’s had to wear them on and off for the past six years, when he hasn’t been at a state psychiatric hospital. He is now likely to be confined by manacles, leg irons or a prison cell for the rest of his life, absent reversal on appeal. He is not yet 32.
Appearing close to catatonic for most of the trial, Bova did not react to the verdict. He had predicted last Monday, perhaps aware of the thin defense he had handed the attorneys he attempted to fire so he could represent himself, that he would be found guilty. He submitted to Sheridan, remaining standing as the jury was polled and the judge thanked the jury.
The only question left was whether Bova would be sentenced to life today, with the family present, or at a hearing in November. After some deliberation between the judge and the lawyers, the court ruled for sentencing today, with testimony from the family. (See details of the sentencing here.)
It’s been six and a half years since Bova, at age 25, gunned down Rosado as her late-night shift was winding down at the Mobil mart on State Road 100 on Feb. 21, 2013.
It took detectives seven months to track down Bova, who had fled his home in Bunnell to Key West and Boca Raton, living out of his car the life of a self-conscious fugitive who at one point tried performing a nose job on himself. He was twice declared incompetent to stand trial and twice restored to competency before a trial could be scheduled. After further delays, the trial began a week ago. By then Bova was admitting to killing Rosado, but claiming he was not guilty by reason of insanity. Voices had been hounding him, telling him to kill her. He resisted. Then he complied.
It took a jury of six women and six men just 39 minutes to find Bova guilty of first-degree, premeditated murder, a remarkably short time for a panel of 12 to reach a verdict.
But not a surprising one.
The prosecution–Assistant State Attorneys Mark Johnson and Jason Lewis–built an strong case against Bova, making him out to be a manipulative faker, an opportunist, a man obsessed with women and crushed by a history of rejection, a troubled man with serious mental health issues, even schizophrenia, but not a man who did not know the difference between right and wrong.
“I submit to you ladies and gentlemen that it’s not even a close call,” Johnson told the jury. The jury’s quick verdict suggests it believed Johnson.
“Why did he do it? We may never know. Maybe he did it because she had previously rebuffed his advances. We don’t know,” Johnson said in his closing argument. Bova had had conversations at the convenience store with Rosado before. Maybe he was bored, Johnson said. Maybe he needed to blow off some steam. “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter why this defendant chose to murder Zuheily Rosado.” What matters, Johnson said, is that “Joseph Bova planned this murder, that Joseph Bova prepared this murder, and that Joseph Bova perpetrated this murder.”
Bova’s defense–Assistant Public Defenders Joshua Mosley and Matt Phillips–tried by various means to break the state’s hermetic case against Bova. But they could not even rely on their own witnesses to raise doubts in the jury’s mind, let alone prove insanity.
Bova’s father could not point to episodes of insanity. Bova’s mother could not bring herself to testify. An expert witness who evaluated Bova could not reach the conclusion that he was insane. Bova himself, on the stand Friday and in the courtroom all six days, could not overcome the image he’d created for himself: sullen, odd looking, perhaps perplexing and not brilliant, but not irrational, often dishonest, and forgetful at just the right moments. On the stand, Bova’s urging on more than one occasion to the jury that they should find him guilty by reason of insanity sounded rehearsed and inauthentic, the plea itself sounding more like an unwitting admission of guilt.
Years after saying he had nothing to do with the murder, Bova claimed he was not in control of his faculties that night, that he was acting out of insanity, allegedly because he was hearing voices throughout, that the voices were telling him Rosado was the devil and could kill with her eyes, and that the voices were telling him to do it, to be a hero and protect the people of Flagler County. That, anyway, was the story Bova crafted starting about a year ago, once he changed his not guilty plea to guilty by reason of insanity.
Florida law presumes everyone sane. It’s the defense’s burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Bova was insane. The evidence must be explicit, producing “a firm belief without hesitation” that he was insane, in Circuit Judge Terence Perkins’s instructions to the jury. If the evidence is not precise, if it’s confusing, if it’s uncertain, that burden has not been met. Mental health issues alone are not enough. “The defense has to prove to you not just that he has a major mental illness, but that at the time the defendant committed this crime, that he was insane,” Johnson told the jury.
The prosecution conceded that Bova was ill. But it calibrated most of its evidence against the claim that Bova was not in control of himself or that he was somehow divorced from his moral sense. The prosecution focused on the voices, among other elements. Not a single witness–not his neighbors, not his landlord, not staffers at the psychiatric hospital, not law enforcement officers who dealt with him at large, not deputies or medical staff at the jail, not his parents, not doctors who evaluated him–could be found to say even once that he had told them of hearing voices, or that he was acting as if he were living through such delusions, as people who hear voices often do. Yet he claimed at one point that he was hearing voices 24 hours a day.
Joseph Sesta, the defense’s one expert witness, said he assumed Bova was psychotic based on the medication he was prescribed, and that such medication was the type prescribed to people with delusions. Sesta was making a causal assumption that’s also a common fallacy that juries might not always detect: it’s true that some medication is given to people with delusions, but it isn’t true that the medication is given only for delusions. Sesta, to the prosecution, was also basing some conclusions on another fallacy–a fallacy William Robert Meadows, the expert witness the prosecution relied on to rebut much of Bova’s and Sesta’s claims, seized on without being asked: “You can’t diagnose based on medication.”
Meadows’s testimony this morning in essence pre-empted the prosecution’s closing arguments.
Meadows recalled his two evaluation sessions with Bova, when Bova “immediately” framed his responses to the doctor from the perspective of a “not guilty by reason of insanity” defense. Meadows saw that as a red flag. As he kept talking of the killing, Meadows concluded that Bova had a “moral sense that this was wrong.” Confronted about his many acts suggesting premeditation–parking his truck in a car wash’s lot across the street, to hide it, running to Rosado’s store through a secretive path behind the business, hiding his face with a t-shirt and sun glasses–“he became very nervous,” Meadows said, “he was fidgeting, to me it looked like he was getting caught in a lie, essentially. Then he terminated the interview.” Bova wanted to leave for lunch. Meadows was surprised. “My impression was he was very uncomfortable about being confronted with facts in the case, specifically about him knowing what he was doing and about doing wrong.”
It wasn’t an hour before Bova terminated the interview, which had been scheduled for several hours. Sesta had experienced the same reaction–and Sesta was to testify in his defense.
“Everything was fine when he was talking about voices. He had no problems saying that,” Meadows said. But Bova initially never said that the voices told him to park across the street, to run behind the store, to cover his face with his shirt. Only when Meadows started asking him about these acts, “then all of a sudden the voices were telling him to do everything,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, I’ve done thousands of cases, and that’s not how voices work.” There are no patients who claim to be hearing voices 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “That’s consistent with feigning mental illness, not genuine mental illness.”
Matt Phillips’s cross-examination of Meadows attempted to push the doctor away from his conclusion that Bova’s mental illness was possibly far more severe and delusional than Meadows’s conclusions. But the doctor stood his ground, using Phillips’s nudges against him: “I don’t disagree that he’s had a diagnosable mental illness,” but Bova’s credibility was in question, Meadows said. “People with mental illness tend to use that mental illness as an excuse for doing bad things, that’s where I’m at.”
As the prosecution described it in its opening arguments, it was 13 seconds between the time Bova shot the single mother of six and the moment she died, after a few seconds’ agony. The jury’s judgment at 1:44 p.m., after starting deliberations at 1:05 p.m., was not as brief. It was nearly as unforgiving.