Sunday, Feb 25, 2007
Nation
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Terror suspect hearing gets underway

BY JAY WEAVER
jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

A psychiatrist hired by lawyers for terror defendant Jose Padilla testified today that the former Broward resident suffers from a mental illness rooted in his lengthy detention and that he is not competent to stand trial in Miami federal court.

Dr. Angela Hegarty said Padilla, who was detained as an ''enemy combatant'' by the military for more than three years, said she diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

''It's my opinion that he lacks the capacity to assist counsel,'' Hegarty said. ``He has a great deal of difficulty talking about the current case before him.''

Padilla, 36, and two other defendants are charged with being part of a Broward-based cell that provided material support for Islamic terror activities overseas. His competency hearing resumes Monday and could last several days. The high-profile trial is set for April.

On Thursday, Hegarty was challenged on cross-examination with providing an incomplete picture of Padilla's mental state. Federal prosecutor John Shipley noted Padilla scored ''zero'' on Hegarty's post-traumatic stress disorder test and revealed that the New York psychiatrist didn't include that information in her final report.

Hegarty, the first witness to take the stand in the competency hearing, said she looked at a variety of factors to make her diagnosis and apologized for not putting the negative test results in her report.

She was followed by another defense psychiatrist who reached a similar conclusion about Padilla's condition.

Other witnesses -- including a U.S. Bureau of Prisons psychiatrist who believes Padilla is fit to face trial and Defense Department officials -- are expected to testify at the ongoing hearing before U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke.

The major question hanging over the proceeding is whether Cooke will allow defense attorneys to question military officials about Padilla's detention from June 2002 to November 2005 at a Navy brig in South Carolina, before his transfer to Miami.

Defense lawyers argue he was ''tortured'' in military custody and that mistreatment contributes to his inability to communicate with them. Hegarty testified that Padilla ''shut down'' when she raised the subject of the brig, showing signs of anxiety such as facial ticks.

Prosecutors counter Padilla was treated humanely and that his competency hearing should be limited to his ''present'' state of mind.