Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Killer May Be Transferred to Less Secure Site; for Now, He Will Stay at Psychiatric Center

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Killer May Be Transferred to Less Secure Site; for Now, He Will Stay at Psychiatric Center

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Pinkham, Times-Union staff writer

A Jacksonville judge ruled yesterday that he has no authority to order the state to hold a mentally ill man who bludgeoned two elderly Westside women to death 16 years ago.

But Circuit Judge Henry Davis left open a 30-day window of opportunity for prosecutors to appeal his decision, which they plan to do. Lawyers for the Florida Department of Children and Families said Robert W. Downing will remain in a Gainesville psychiatric center until the case is resolved but may have to move him to a less secure facility after that.

Downing was declared incompetent to stand trial after he used a tire iron to kill 80-year-old Cullie Paige and 79-year-old Olga Sass in a supermarket parking lot at Blanding Boulevard and 103rd Street. He said he hated old women and believed they planned to poison him. By court order, he has remained in a maximum security mental health facility operated by DCF in Gainesville ever since.

But a Miami appeals court ruled in August in a similar case that judges lose jurisdiction over such cases after five years. And DCF doctors, despite Downing's claim in July that he would do the same thing again, recommended in a report to the judge this summer that Downing, 44, be moved to a less secure facility like Northeast Florida State Hospital in Macclenny.

Reports of Downing's case had DCF backpedaling yesterday. Agency attorneys said if forced to move Downing to a civil facility it more likely would be the state mental hospital in Chattahoochee, which has better security than Macclenny.

And DCF Secretary Jerry Regier faxed a statement to the media Thursday night that said: "In no way do we feel that he is safe for release or for placement in a less secure facility." His spokesman didn't return phone calls yesterday afternoon to clarify why his statement conflicted with DCF lawyers.

Relatives of the victims were outraged by the prospect that Downing could ever be free.

"He's going to get out and the first thing he's going to do is hit the streets . …

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