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Neuropsychologist testifies that woman accused of killing husband too impaired to assist in own defense

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Roxanne Jeskey, 48, enters the courtroom at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor for her initial appearance Friday, June 24, 2011. Jeskey is charged with the June 13, 2011, murder of her husband, Richard Jeskey.
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — A Portland neuropsychologist testified Friday that the woman accused of killing her husband in June 2011 in the couple’s bathroom is unable to assist in her own defense as result of brain surgery performed nearly 10 years ago.

Richard Doiron took the stand for the defense on the second day of a hearing to determine whether Roxanne M. Jeskey, 49, of Bangor will stand trial this summer for the brutal slaying of her husband.

The competency hearing before Superior Court Justice Ann Murray is scheduled to resume Tuesday at the Penobscot Judicial Center. It is not expected to conclude until Wednesday.

Jeskey’s attorneys, David Bate and Joseph Baldacci, both of Bangor, have said that she is not competent to assist them in her defense because of medical conditions that have caused cognitive issues that predate the death of her husband on June 12, 2011.

“She had a tumor on the right side of her brain removed in 2004,” Baldacci earlier this week. “She’s had extensive heart surgery and suffers from hardening of the arteries. She has long-standing memory issues.”

Doiron, who interviewed the defendant and oversaw the administration of a battery of psychological tests to her in February 2012, testified Friday that Jeskey would be able to identify individuals in the courtroom such as the judge, prosecutor and jury. She would have trouble processing what was happening in the courtroom, taking in new information and connecting it to her old memories, the neuropsychologist said.

“It’s good to have two hemispheres [of the brain] working for you when you’re talking about competency,” Doiron said.

“During a trial, she would need to be able to see the big picture and how the smaller elements fit into it,” he testified. “She could see the big picture but seeing the interrelationships with what was happening at the moment would be a big problem for her.”

Robert Riley, a clinical neuropsychologist in Augusta, testified Wednesday that Jeskey is competent. He did not waver from that opinion Friday morning under cross-examination.

April O’Grady, director of psychological services at the University of Maine, testified Tuesday that Jeskey has trouble with abstract thinking, immediate memory and holding information in her memory while performing another task, such as remembering what she had just read. Under cross-examination Tuesday, O’Grady said those cognitive problems might make it difficult for Jeskey to testify in her own defense. She suggested that during the trial, Jeskey or an aide write things down and that she and her defense team take more than the usual numbers of breaks.

On Wednesday and Friday, Jeskey took notes and conferred with her attorneys. Murray allowed more frequent breaks than is usual during the hearing on both days.

Jeskey has pleaded not guilty to intentional or knowing murder and depraved indifference murder in the death of her husband, Richard Jeskey, 53, in their Ohio Street apartment nearly two years ago.

Police have said Jeskey beat and strangled her husband in an assault that included the use of pliers, a box cutter and a plastic baseball bat. His bloody and battered body was found June 13, 2011, after Jeskey reportedly called police to report he was not breathing.

Jeskey has been held without bail since her arrest 10 days after her husband’s death. She was transferred last summer from Penobscot County Jail to Riverview Psychiatric Center so she could be evaluated, according to a previously published report.

Her jury trial is scheduled to begin June 24 if she is found competent. A battered-spouse defense is expected to be presented.

If Jeskey were to be found not competent to stand trial, she could be committed to Riverview until staff deemed her able to live in the community and not be a danger to herself or others.

She would face a sentence of between 25 years and life in prison if convicted of murder.

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