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Teen suspect's fitness for trial debated
Mental health experts took turns Tuesday debating what might be wrong with the 14-year-old boy who sat nearby in handcuffs, accused of killing a classmate by stabbing him more than 40 times.
Depending which expert was testifying on Tuesday, Michael Hernandez, is either a highly gifted young man who wants to some day be a psychologist, or a severely mentally ill boy who ritualistically cuts himself and talks to clocks and a lucky penny.
While all three experts agreed Hernandez has a mental illness, they differed remarkably on whether his sickness makes him mentally unfit to stand trial. Final arguments are scheduled for next week, after which Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Henry Leyte-Vidal will decide whether to proceed with a murder trial against Hernandez or send the former eighth-grader to a mental institution until the boy is competent.
Hernandez is being tried as an adult on a charge of first-degree murder in the Feb. 3 death of his friend, 14-year-old Jaime Gough. If convicted, he could receive life in prison.
To make the case that the teen is incompetent to stand trial, Hernandez's attorney, Richard Rosenbaum, hired a New York-based psychology professor who evaluated the teen on two separate occasions. The psychologist, Barry Rosenfeld of Fordham University, said Hernandez is a schizophrenic who is delusional at times and who cannot possibly comprehend the legal proceedings against him.
"He is a particularly disturbed young man whose judgment is not very good, and has no awareness what society thinks is appropriate behavior," testified Rosenfeld, who said he does not think Hernandez is faking a mental illness. "If he is, it is the most peculiar way anyone has ever tried."
Rosenfeld said Hernandez told him he spends the day inside his jail cell in ritualistic prayer, and has cut his hands, arms and legs to punish himself. Hernandez also claimed that police planted additional blood on the knife used in the slaying and that he expects he'll go home on a technicality and grounded by his parents, Rosenfeld said.
Later in the day, two court-appointed experts countered Rosenfeld by saying Hernandez suffers mostly from obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. Both illnesses do not prevent him from standing trial, they said.
Psychologist Vanessa Archer said she found Hernandez to be highly intelligent and extremely aware of the consequences he faces if found guilty.
"When I asked him about the range of punishment, it was obvious by the way he looked at me that he was saying, `Moron, the only option I have is life in prison,'" Archer said.
On Tuesday, Hernandez sat in a jury box looking sullen, and made hardly any visual contact with anyone inside the packed courtroom. His parents sat on several benches nearby, opposite to Gough's parents. At different moments throughout the day, both mothers held tissues and wept.
Ihosvani Rodriguez can be reached at email@example.com or 305-810-5005.