(As originally published with bells and whistles, Mon, June 6th 2022, 6:04 PM EDT)
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — Semmie Lee Williams, Jr., has many delusional beliefs and his schizophrenia “diagnosis goes back years,” according to his defense team.
“A central feature of his mental disorder is his fixed persecutory delusion that he believes he is a targeted individual who is being continuously victimized as part of a nationwide conspiracy of harassment and gang stalking by forces associated with the Freemasons, Illuminati, the KKK, and other such clandestine or non-existent organizations. He believes this persecution has resulted in him being continuously sexually assaulted and tortured, him being attacked with electromagnetic weaponry, him being abducted and implanted with electric chips throughout his body, him having holes poked in his face, and even him being attacked by demons and other supernatural forces.
“He believes these things have continued to happen to him while in jail since his arrest in this case,” it wrote, to get a judge to declare Williams incompetent to stand trial for the murder of 14-year-old Ryan Rogers, but that’s exactly the opposite of what Williams wants.
CBS12 examined dozens of pages of arguments from both sides that were presented to the court last Wednesday by the defense, and last Friday by the state, as the judge in the latest competency hearing wanted.
Before a jury decides whether Semmie Lee Williams, Jr., is guilty of stabbing Rogers to death, the judge will decide whether Williams is competent to stand trial.
Rogers was murdered while out riding his bike in Palm Beach Gardens in November.
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The suspect Williams is actually on the side of the prosecution, rather than his own public defenders on the issue of competency, because he doesn’t want to be committed to a forensic mental health hospital.
At the start of its 23-page “Argument in Support of Adjudicating Mr. Williams Incompetent to Proceed,” the defense “soundly supports a finding by the Court that Mr. Williams is incompetent to proceed. Such a finding, along with a determination that Mr. Williams meets criteria for commitment to a forensic hospital, will allow for more intensive and focused mental health treatment and adjustment of psychotropic medication which may potentially allow for Mr. Williams to be restored to competency.”
It added in a footnote about the entire defense team “advocating for his incompetency to proceed against his wishes … [due to] an ethical obligation … based on overwhelming firsthand evidence that Mr. Williams’ severe mental illness and delusional beliefs render him unable to rationally appreciate these proceedings or meaningfully assist in his defense.”
Much of the defense argument is based on the testimony of licensed forensic psychologist Dr. Gretchen Moy, who was hired by the defense, and met with and observed Williams eight times for over seven hours between Feb. 28 and May 9.
They wrote, “From the start, she noted that his mental illness and delusions resulted in him being guarded and suspicious of others, including her initially.” That the first time, while watching him interact and communicate with one of his lawyers, “He fixated on his delusional belief system and his irrational ideas regarding how he should be defended.” And that first time was when Dr. Moy “developed serious concerns regarding his competency to proceed.”
After that, Williams and Moy met alone and “he shared his delusional and irrational beliefs about why he was being targeted for prosecution, how his lawyers should defend him, and what he would personally testify about at his trial.”
The defense noted, “Dr. Moy also spent several additional hours consulting with Mr. Williams’ defense lawyers about their interactions with Mr. Williams and reviewing numerous collateral sources of information regarding Mr. Williams’ mental health history and his extensive and complex delusional belief system.”
It explained Williams’ delusional beliefs are “about why he was arrested and is being prosecuted [along with] “irrational beliefs concerning the composition of the jury and how to ensure he has a fair jury.”
According to the defense, Moy’s “rapport building resulted in Mr. Williams confiding that he often withheld his beliefs from others because he recognized that they did not believe him and considered him crazy for believing such things about the world. Mr. Williams specifically told Dr. Moy that he was not going to talk about his delusional beliefs with the court-appointed competency examiners because he knew it could result in him being count incompetent and committed to a forensic mental health hospital.”
It also cited his schizophrenia “diagnosis goes back years. A central feature of his mental disorder is his fixed persecutory delusion that he believes he is a targeted individual who is being continuously victimized as part of a nationwide conspiracy of harassment and gang stalking by forces associated with the Freemasons, Illuminati, the KKK, and other such clandestine or non-existent organizations. He believes this persecution has resulted in him being continuously sexually assaulted and tortured, him being attacked with electromagnetic weaponry, him being abducted and implanted with electric chips throughout his body, him having holes poked in his face, and even him being attacked by demons and other supernatural forces. He believes these things have continued to happen to him while in jail since his arrest in this case.”
As for medication, “These delusional beliefs have persisted despite Mr. Williams’ compliance with the regime of antipsychotic psychotropic medication. [Despite the meds leading to fewer] hallucinations and allowed Mr. Williams to ‘stabilize’ within the controlled environment of the jail’s mental health unit, Dr. Moy explained that fixed delusional beliefs such as those held by Mr. Williams are often extremely difficult to eliminate, even with psychiatric medication. [Furthermore] he saw no connection between his schizophrenia and the fixed persecutory delusions he harbors so deeply.”
Plus, “Dr. Moy testified that Mr. Williams was presently incompetent to proceed despite having an adequate factual understanding of the legal proceeding. … She attributes his adequate factual understanding to the absence of any significant intellectual disability and to him having previously undergone two years of competency restoration training.”
Instead, “Dr. Moy’s opinion that Mr. Williams is not competent to proceed is based on Mr. Williams’ lack of rational — versus purely factual — understanding of the proceeding and his lack of rational ability to consult with and assist his lawyers in his defense.”
Finally, the defense wrote that according to Dr. Moy, “Williams’ appreciation of the charges is unacceptable because he believes that the same shadowy gang stalking conspiracy which is behind his torture persecution is behind him being arrested and prosecuted for murder. That his appreciation of the adversarial nature of the legal process is questionable because of his delusional beliefs about the role of the jury and its composition.”
They wrote, “Dr. Moy ultimately recommended that Mr. Williams be committed to a forensic hospital to undergo focused restoration efforts. Her prognosis was guarded, and she believed restoration would take a minimum of six months upon being transported to the hospital. She cautioned that further examiners should be alert to the fact that Mr. Williams is highly motivated to be found competent and that he may therefore withhold, minimize, or even disavow his delusional beliefs.”
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On the other hand, the defense took exception to the psychologists called by the state.
The argument said Dr. Stephen Alexander “met with Mr. Williams on a single occasion (on March 14, 2022) for a little over 60 minutes.” At the outset of his face-to-face evaluation, Dr Alexander told Mr. Williams he was evaluating him for competency to proceed and would be reporting back to the court with his findings.”
The defense gave Dr. Alexander records, “but it was not clear when he reviewed those materials or to what extent he reviewed them. Due to a knee surgery around the time of his appointment and evaluation, he never spoke with the defense counsel prior to the examination despite their efforts to contact him about the materials they sent him and about their concerns that Mr. Williams would potentially withhold information about his delusional beliefs during the examination.”
It cited, Dr. Alexander “emphasized that Mr. Williams possesses and acceptable capacity in all competency categories and that any concerns can be corrected by his lawyers.” But “Dr. Alexander did not ask Mr. Williams about how his delusional beliefs impact his views about the case or his views about how his lawyers should defend him.” It said Dr. Alexander “never asks about such things” because “he was concerned about eliciting any incriminating statements from Mr. Williams in the presence of the prosecutor,” so “Dr. Alexander was not privy to the same information as Dr. Moy was, and so inevitably he is working with less information than Dr. Moy.”
Also, “Williams told Dr. Alexander that his homelessness and his drifting about the country over the last decade was the result of economic hardship in a bad job market. Mr. Williams made no mention of it being the result of fleeing from imagined persecution, and Dr. Alexander accepted this without question despite what Mr. Williams has told mental health professionals in the past, the other examiners in this case, and his police interrogators.”
Furthermore, “Dr. Alexander characterized such issues regarding a defendant’s delusional belief system nearly as strategic disagreements between defendant and lawyer that are extremely common in our legal system.”
The defense made many of the same arguments against Dr. Adam White, who came to the same conclusion that Williams is competent to stand trial as Dr. Alexander. It noted he met with Williams once for about 90 minutes, and Dr. White told Williams he’d be “evaluating him for competency for to proceed and would we be reporting back to the Court with his findings. Prior to meeting with Mr. Williams, Dr. White thoroughly reviewed the materials provided by the defense and was aware of Mr. Williams’ extensive and complex system of fixed delusional beliefs, including his fixed perspiratory delusions regarding being a targeted individual who is a victim of gang stalking.”
“He noted that Mr. Williams was in an acute and floridly psychotic state when he was arrested and interviewed by police in this case,” the defense stated, although that was about previous statement and not whether Williams can now stand trial. “He acknowledged that, at that time, due to being unmedicated, Mr. Williams was unable to exercise any rational discretion regarding the things he was saying to his police interrogators.
“Unlike Dr. Alexander, Dr. White did inquire and was told about Mr. Williams’ delusional beliefs about reality. [However] Dr. White believes that Mr. Williams current compliance with psychotropic medication has resulted in the suppression of his delusional beliefs to the point that they no longer interfere with his rational capacity to understand these proceedings. Dr White ‘took it for granted’ that Mr. Williams’ insight to his schizophrenia extended to his delusional beliefs, although he never asked Mr. Williams about that.”
And “Dr. White agreed that ‘faking good’ was a common behavior of mentally ill individuals especially in order to avoid negative judgment or what they perceived as adverse consequences (e.g. involuntary hospitalization). Dr. White also suggested that withholding such beliefs would exceed Mr. Williams’ sophistication and pointed out that a floridly psychotic person who harbored delusional beliefs would struggle to hide them.”
Finally, the defense discussed the law, including the U.S. Supreme Court long holding “that the criminal trial of an incompetent defendant violates due process.”
It also quoted a case about “Whether a defendant has the necessary rational understanding turns on whether ‘his mental condition precludes him from perceiving accurately, interpreting, and/or responding appropriately to the world around him.’ Therefore, ‘a defendant may be deemed incompetent despite an intellectual understanding of the charges against him, if his impaired sense of reality undermines his judgment and prevents him from making rational decisions regarding his defense.’”
Then, the state presented its rebuttal in just 10 pages.
It started by saying before the May 27 competency hearing began, “Defense attorney informed the court that his client opposed the hearing and that he (the defendant) strongly believed that he is confident to proceed and that he has a defense for the charges pending against him.”
It noted Dr. Moy’s report to the court had redactions performed by the defense and claimed she “reviewed information some of which was not provided to court appointed doctors. It should be noted that Dr. Moy concurred with Dr. Alexander and Dr. White on three factors of the rule that govern mental competency. Dr. Moy attributes her disagreement to the other three factors based on her belief that the defendant has factual understanding but lacks rational understanding. Also, she believed that taking longer time to evaluate the defendant rendered more accurate results. The state disagrees.”
This side argued standard evaluations last “about an hour, that there was nothing inappropriate about the amount of time Dr. Alexander and Dr. White spent with the defendant, and that is the way it is done consistently. Dr. Moy responded that her evaluation mirrored Dr. Alexander’s and Dr. White’s in time and manner. Further, all the doctors’ evaluation were conducted within a couple of months. Thus, spending the extra unnecessary hours with the defendant should not be relevant at all.”
As for Dr. Moy’s concerns about Williams’ fixating “‘on his delusional belief system and his irrational idea regarding how he should be defended.’ The defendant ‘told Dr. Moy that he was not going to talk about his delusional beliefs with the court-appointed competency examiners because he knew what could result in him being found incompetent and committed to a forensic mental health hospital.’
“The defense is essentially arguing that the defendant is so incompetent and yet so savvy that he knows who to talk to, what to say, and how to hide his mental issues from two highly experienced doctors who spent at least an hour with him. The defendant is also telling this court that he apparently can regulate and hide his delusion whenever he wants. … Is the defendant that savvy to know how to hide his illusion from two experienced experts? But then chooses to disclose it to his expert who recommended what he feared will happen — the commitment. Also, Dr. Moy never told the defendant that she is evaluating him for competency, why would he discuss with her his communication with Dr. Alexander and Dr. White regarding competency?”
The prosecutors cited a rule that “sets forth the factors that court-appointed experts must consider when evaluating whether defendant is competent to proceed, and it details the information that must be addressed in the examining expert’s written report. That’s exactly what the court-appointed doctors did.”
It said their experts deemed Williams has a “sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding” and “a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.”
“They both agreed to the following: that the defendant was oriented, that his demeanor, mood, effect, judgment, degree of alertness, eye contact, memory, thought form, thought content, thought form [sic], attention, responses, behavior, grooming and speech were all appropriate. He was oriented in time, place and situation. He did not show any signs of auditory or hallucinations. His answers were fluid, spontaneous and rational. And he did not show any irrational delusion at the time of the evaluation.
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“Based on the above testimony by the court-appointed doctors and their reports it is clear that the dependent has the requisite rational understanding and his mental condition does not preclude him from interpreting and responding appropriately to the world around him.”
The prosecution also cited a similar case in Florida in which the trial court denied the defendant’s requests and stated, “Not every defendant whose mental health problems manifest in bizarre or irrational behavior is legally incompetent to stand trial.”
Plus, in another case, “the Florida Supreme Court concluded that, despite [the defendant’s] mental illness and delusional belief, he nonetheless ‘understands’ the connection between his impending execution and the murders he had committed and understands that he will die when executed.”
The state wants the death penalty for Williams.
The competency hearing judge said he’d decide the issue after receiving both sides’ written cases.