Judge to decide if woman is competent to stand trial in husband’s death

Posted April 16, 2013, at 7:39 p.m.
Roxanne Jeskey sits in court on Thursday during the closing argumenst of her competency hearing at the Penobscot Judicial Center.
Roxanne Jeskey sits in court on Thursday during the closing argumenst of her competency hearing at the Penobscot Judicial Center.
Roxanne Jeskey, 48, enters the courtroom at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor for her initial appearance in June 2011.
Roxanne Jeskey, 48, enters the courtroom at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor for her initial appearance in June 2011.

BANGOR, Maine — Despite cognitive and memory problems stemming from brain surgery nearly a decade ago, Roxanne Jeskey is competent to stand trial for murder, the prosecutor said.

Not so, one of the defense attorneys for the 49-year-old Bangor woman argued, emphasizing his client’s inability to comprehend complex legal issues and assist in preparing her own defense.

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.

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea and defense attorney David Bate of Bangor summed up their positions late Tuesday afternoon after a three-day hearing before Superior Court Justice Ann Murray at the Penobscot Judicial Center, which began last week.

Attorneys have until April 26 to submit briefs. There is no timetable under which Murray must issue her decision. The trial is scheduled to begin June 24.

To rule Jeskey is competent, Murray must find by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant understands the nature of the charges, comprehends her own condition in relation to those charges and the consequences of a conviction, and is able to assist in her own defense. The testimony of four psychologists, two for each side, focused on whether Jeskey’s cognitive and memory problems stemming from brain surgery in 2004 meant she would not be able to understand and remember testimony during a trial and make informed decisions about whether to testify in her own defense.

“There is an abundance of evidence as to what Mrs. Jeskey’s [cognitive] skills are,” Zainea said, referring to testing administered by one of the psychologists.

Defense attorneys Joseph Baldacci of Bangor and Bate said outside the courthouse after the hearing that they had presented “a compelling case” that proved their client was not competent to stand trial.

“The bottom line is that she is not at this time able to assist in her own defense,” Baldacci said. “She needs further treatment.”

The attorney did not outline what that treatment should be.

A corrections officer at the Penobscot County Jail, where Jeskey is being held without bail, testified Tuesday for the prosecution. Ann Burgess said that Jeskey did not stammer and stutter, as several of the psychologists said she did during interviews with them.

Burgess said that Jeskey was polite with staff but often kept to herself. The corrections officer said Jeskey preferred reading novels to watching television with other inmates.

Burgess said she remembered Jesky reading books in the “Twilight” series last year.

“When she first came, she was loud and obnoxious, but not now,” the corrections officer testified. “She’s quiet now.”

Burgess said that Jeskey did not like the food at the jail and had lost a significant amount of weight during the time she has been there.

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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