It was another astonishing court appearance in a history of astonishing hearings and the trial involving Joseph Bova II, the now-34-year-old schizophrenic serving life in prison for the 2013 murder of Zuheily Rosado, the mother of five, at a Palm Coast convenience store on State Road 100.
Bova today rejected the new trial an appeals court ruled he was entitled to. But in a bewildering move none of the attorneys or the judge saw coming, and that put the lie to his chronic mental incompetence, he won himself a new plea agreement that could lower his sentence from life to 45 years.
Starting with the way he murdered Rosado, killing her execution-style though he didn’t appear to know her, to the way he explained why he shot her (voices told him to do it to save Flagler County), to the way he’s behaved in most of his court appearances since, one thing has been consistent throughout about Joseph Bova: he’s been unpredictable and inexplicable.
Today was no different. He was back in Flagler, back before before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins since his September 2019 jury conviction and sentence to life in prison. He was back because an appeals court had granted his appeal for a new trial. In one of his strangest performances, Bova had argued before trial in 2019 that he wanted to fire his attorneys and represent himself. Perkins said no, telling him that he could not knowingly allow him to do something that would ensure his defeat.
One of the lawyers Bova wanted fired, Josh Mosley, filed a motion for a new trial. Weeks later the judge defended his decision in detail and denied the motion in an eight-minute hearing Bova did not attend. Mosley appealed, arguing that Perkins was wrong to deny his client a fundamental right. The Fifth District Court of Appeal exactly a year ago agreed, and ordered a new trial.
Bova was ordered back to Flagler in March from his prison at Dade Correctional, and was found incompetent to proceed. It was a repeat of the history of his case. He’d been found incompetent in 2014 and 2017 before he was finally judged competent to stand trial in September 2019. The latest determination of incompetency followed a four-hour consultation with a psychologist at the Flagler County jail in March and April 2021, when he was repeatedly uncooperative, mumbling and acting oddly, and ending the second encounter by saying he wanted to represent himself. He’d not been taking his required medication. He was again sent to a state hospital. By Sept. 7, he was found competent to proceed as long as he stayed on his medication for schizophrenia.
But Bova in October himself claimed he was incompetent to proceed. While he was at the county jail again, pending his next hearing, he refused to take his medication. Still, he insisted he would represent himself. He remained at the jail. Yet another status hearing was scheduled for today.
That’s when Bova sprang the first of his latest surprises. There would be two more in the space of a few minutes, the most startling left for last.
“I don’t want to take it back to trial, your honor,” Bova told Perkins, speaking by video link from the county jail.
Bova looked like someone emerged from an underground, his eyes entombed in puffed up lids and under-eyes, his hair a halo-like shag of black, his striped orange and white jail garb flopped on. He did not look like a well man, and never has been. But what was about to happen was another twist that hinted at a man in better command of his faculties than he let on.
The judge had been reviewing the latest determinations about Bova with Mosley and Assistant State Attorney Mark Johnson, and wanted to move on to discuss whether or not Bova still wanted to represent himself–and schedule a new trial. The lawyers talked about a trial in May. They were about to settle on the second week of May when Bova jumped in.
“I don’t want to go back to trial. I have no reason. I don’t object to what happened in the first trial,” Bova said. “So please, let’s just end it right here.”
“So you’re interested in entering a plea?” the judge asked him.
“I don’t wish to take it back to trial, Your Honor.”
Both Bova and Perkins were confused at this point. Bova wasn’t understanding that to “end it right here” he would have to enter a plea. Perkins wasn’t understanding Bova’s latest reversal, which clearly took everyone by surprise. Perkins still needed to know whether Bova wanted to represent himself: even entering a plea, he’d have to decide whether to do it with a lawyer or to do it himself. He didn’t want representation.
Then he sprang one more surprise. He claimed not to have known that an appeal was filed on his behalf. “Who brought it up the district court that I didn’t get to represent myself?” he asked. Perkins told him. He again repeated his wish to end the case.
“Can you please at least meet with Mr. Mosely and Mr. Smith and talk to him about that issue?” the judged told him (Smith is Mosley’s co-counsel).
“He has refused to meet with us since the last hearing date, saying he was representing himself. Our experts, our counsel, he has refused to even come out of his cell most times to come talk with us,” Mosley said.
Perkins told Bova that he would send him a plea form, but still wanted Bova to go over it with his attorneys.
“What is the plea for?” he asked. The judge told him: admission to the crime. “I don’t want a new sentence, I want to keep the old sentence the way it was,” Bova said, “the way the the jury that found me guilty. I want to keep it that way. I don’t want to have a new plea.” He was referring to his life sentence.
Perkins told him he had no choice in the matter. Bova continued arguing, saying whoever filed the appeal did so illegally. Perkins then defended Mosley for filing the appeal.
Then came the third surprise: “Are you still offering the 40 years for me?” Bova asked. There had apparently been talk of a plea agreement in 2019, before the trial. A tired-of-it-all-sounding Mosley explained it: “There was a 45 to life offer that you all made at Judge Perkins’s request. But Mr. Bova said he wouldn’t entertain it. So it never formally became an offer.”
“If the State offered the 45 to life,” Perkins said, “we would have a new sentencing hearing, but it would be 45–the parameters would be the lowest is 45 years, the highest would be life.” Now Perkins asked Johnson: “Will the state offer 45 to life?”
“Yes, your honor,” Johnson said.
And just like that, Bova got a glimmer of hope to edge back from his life term. At that point, Bova gave in: he would agree to meet with lawyers, go over the plea form, and return to court with it for sentencing on a 45-to-life sentence.
“All right. Thank you very much, sir. Your Honor,” Bova, now all clarity and sprightliness, told Perkins. And he had done it without the intercession of lawyers, though it’s not really clear whether even he was aware of what he’d won.
Bova is 34. He has already served almost exactly nine years in prison (he was first jailed on Feb. 21, 2013). Getting a 45-year sentence, instead of life, would be no small victory. It would mean that he’d still have 36 years to serve. With gain time, if it applies (that is, early release for good behavior), his effective sentence would be reduced to 38 years–or 29 more years in prison. He could be released when he is 63. But that’s assuming Perkins would go for the lower end of the scale. The state will argue for life. It’s an open question whether Bova will allow his attorneys to argue for him.
It’s also, of course, an open question whether Perkins will go for the lower end of the sentence range. The whole arrangement could well have been a means of getting Bova to just go along with the required mechanics, the plea form, the meeting with his attorney, the next hearing and the sentencing, without further surprises. He was sentenced to life once. He could very well be sentenced to life again.
But pleas change things. They indicate a measure of acceptance of the crime committed, and some judges, if not most judges, are loath not to recognize that. Otherwise it sends a chilling message to other defendants who might decide that pleading isn’t worth the risk if the outcome is all the same. And Perkins is not among the circuit’s more sadistic judges. So Bova’s chance at a lower sentence–even if not quite 45–is not imaginary.
The plea hearing is scheduled for March 11 at 1:30 p.m. It will be followed by a yet-unscheduled sentencing hearing.