Woman’s parents seek closure in area slaying — (The Gainesville Sun)

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The Gainesville Sun

By LISE FISHER, Sun Staff Writer

January 25. 2004 6:01AM

ZOOM Special to The Sun     Two years after Barbara Roth’s killing, the case has yet to go to trial.

Sam and Doris Roth of DeLand have been waiting for two years for justice in the case of their slain daughter, Barbara.

Sam Roth of DeLand is 81.  His wife, Doris, is coming up on 79.

And both fear that, at this rate, they will never get closure in the case of their daughter Barbara Roth’s killing two years ago in Gainesville.

It’s not that investigators and prosecutors don’t have a defendant.

Tavares Eugene Williams is accused of killing the University of Florida research analyst by hitting her three times with a baseball bat. Barbara Roth had taken him under her wing and was serving as his guardian.

She was found dead in her apartment on Jan. 25, 2002. Williams was 18 at the time.

But, since October, Williams has been receiving mental health treatment after he was found incompetent to stand trial. That, prosecutors say, has brought the case to a halt.

“Our hands are tied,” State Attorney Bill Cervone said. “Procedurally what has to happen is the institution will notify the court that they believe he’s been restored. Until then, I can do nothing.”

Doris Roth said she doesn’t believe Williams is incompetent.

“He was never nuts before,” she said. “I think he’s trying to avoid anything he can.”

Sam Roth said, “I want him to go to trial. Let the jury make the decision whether he’s competent or not competent.”

Barbara Roth, 51, a research analyst for UF’s Center for Humanities and Social Science Research and an adjunct professor for the political science department, was found dead at her home in the Covered Bridge Apartments at 1810 NW 23rd Blvd.

She and Williams lived at the apartment where a neighbor said she heard screaming and cursing early in the morning. Later that day the apartment manager found Barbara Roth dead inside and called police.

Barbara Roth met Williams when he was a child and she was a Volusia County social worker assigned to his family. She kept in touch with him and became his guardian four years before her death, moving him to Gainesville.

Doris Roth said, “We’ve known this kid since he was 4 years old.”

But, she said, “We just know that he did it. But the reason, we have no idea. I don’t think anybody does. I don’t know if he’s even told his attorney.”

Her husband, however, said his daughter had an insurance policy worth several thousand dollars and that half was going to Williams.

Friends of Williams said he never showed any signs of violence. He got good grades at Gainesville High School and was a four-year member of the football team.

Williams, now 20, had been prescribed Prozac about eight months before the killing, Barbara Roth’s family had said. A bottle of the anti-depressant drug was found in the apartment.

Court records indicate Williams is represented by a public defender. Public Defender Rick Parker would not comment on specifics about the case, but noted that a judge had made a determination of incompetency.

Cervone said, in spite of the current ruling, he believes Williams eventually will face the murder charge in court.

“In far more cases than not, after some period of treatment, defendants are restored to competency,” Cervone said. Speaking about Williams’ case, he said, “I have seen nothing to convince me that he suffers from a serious or long-standing mental health problem.”

Once the competency issue was raised by defense attorneys, it would have been “extremely reckless” for a judge not to address Williams’ mental health issues, Cervone said. The law “would suggest strongly” that these matters be dealt with before they become an issue later in the case or on appeal.

A finding of incompetency to go to trial is not a ruling of insanity, Cervone added. Instead, it refers to Williams’ ability to communicate effectively with his attorney or understand the nature of the case at this time.

It’s possible, however, that insanity at the time of the crime could be raised by the defense at a later date, Cervone said.

“I want him locked up for life,” Doris Roth said. “I just don’t want that kid out of jail, no way. You do it once, it comes easy the second time. What’s to prevent him from getting into a temper and doing it to somebody else?”

And legal wrangling about the case is of little comfort to the Roths. Doris Roth said she wishes doctors and the courts would “hurry up” Williams’ evaluation and treatment.

“They drag it on and on and on,” she said. “I just want to see this come to a conclusion before I kick the bucket.”

Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or fisherl@gvillesun.com.