Supreme Court of Florida. Credit: Danielle J. Brown
Duane Eugene Owen is faking a schizophrenic delusion that he sexually assaulted and murdered two women in 1984 to capture their female essence, hoping to avoid execution next week, lawyers for the state argue in a brief filed with the Florida Supreme Court.
A Bradford County trial judge properly concluded as much during a hearing in early June, based on evidence by three psychiatrists appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to evaluate Owen plus staff of the Florida Department of Corrections who worked with him over the years, the state lawyers argued Wednesday.
Owen began professing the delusion more than a decade after he murdered Georgianna Worden with five hammer blows to the head, within weeks of sexually assaulting and stabbing to death Karen Slattery in 1984.
Worden was a mother; Slattery was a teenaged babysitter. Both lived in Palm Beach County. He was sentenced to death for both crimes but his death warrant concerns the Worden case.
DeSantis has set the execution for Thursday, June 15.
“Owen’s eleventh-hour presentation is as glaringly deficient today as it was when first presented at his 1999 re-trial [in the Slattery case],” the state’s attorneys argue.
“In fact, the fallacy of this ‘delusion’ and alleged insanity to be executed is further buttressed today, given that there is an additional 25 years of absolutely no indication whatsoever that this ‘delusion’ exists let alone that it has impaired his daily life at all in the last 39 years. The trial court’s findings are supported by competent substantial evidence and must be affirmed,” they add.
Owen’s attorneys have until 5 p.m. Thursday to file an additional brief rebutting the state’s arguments. The court has said that it will consider later whether to hear oral arguments.
A defense brief, filed with the high court on Tuesday, cites witnesses including Hyman Eisenstein, a neuropsychologist who spent 13 hours over two days evaluating Owen. That doctor concluded that Owen suffers psychiatric disorders including gender identity disorder, paraphilic sexual disorder, schizophrenia, and dementia.
His main delusion, that evidence suggests, is that Owen is a woman trapped in a male body but could become female by having sex with women and absorbing their femaleness at the moment of their death. He insists they live on within his body.
The state’s brief relies heavily on conclusions by a medical commission DeSantis appointed to examine Owen, consisting of veteran criminal psychiatrists Wade Myers, Tonia Werner, and Emily Lazarou.
That document paints the defense doctor, Eisenstein, as credulous about Owen’s claims.
But Owen didn’t disclose the delusion to his first mental health doctor in 1984, the brief continues, instead saying: “I have several problems. I do things I don’t mean to do — rape. I don’t know why I want to do that. Maybe I just want to get away with things. Like, after breaking and entering, I feel I’ve accomplished something if I allude [sic] the police. I like danger, overcoming adversity.”
Owen disclosed to that doctor that he had actually committed seven rapes, five attempted murders, two murders, and several burglaries and misdemeanors, the brief says, and that he planned to withhold details of them to delay his eventual execution.
True schizophrenia, the commission doctors testified, would have manifested from Owen’s first police interviews.
Rather, Owen “was very personable, very interactive” and didn’t exhibit the symptoms one would expect of someone who’d suffered untreated schizophrenia for 40 years. In fact, one of the doctors cited corrections officers who’d worked with Owen reporting that his behavior had improved over time.
Furthermore, Owen acknowledged that he was going to be executed for murdering the women — the test of his mental competence to be executed, the brief contends.
“None the less, Owen knows that if he is executed, he will die,” it says.
Neither did his demeanor during his assessment reflect dementia, as Owen’s lawyers insist, the psychiatrists concluded. Additionally, he presented and described himself as heterosexual.
The brief notes testimony by a prison psychologist that Owen first mentioned suffering gender dysphoria 12 years after his initial incarceration, while facing the Slattery retrial. He’d never mentioned it to police during his interrogations following the crimes, as the psychiatrists would have expected. One of the doctors concluded that Owen was a sexual sadist and that his self-described delusion was “too convenient” to represent anything other than malingering, or faking mental illness.
“Those with a true delusion ‘live in the delusion;’ they do not turn it off and on whenever convenient for them or when something is up for an appeal or they get a retrial. Without medication the delusion in fact gets worse. If Owen had a delusion, and he had yet to become a woman, then any female in the prison would have been at potential risk. Owen never attacked in prison, because his ‘delusion’ was not genuine,” the brief says.
Correction: The original version of this story misreported Owen’s scheduled execution date. The governor has set it for Thursday, June 15.
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