Assailant in Unborn Guardianship Case May be Mentally Disabled

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 25, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Assailant in Unborn Guardianship Case May be Mentally Disabled

by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 25, 2003

Orlando, FL ( — When a disabled Florida woman was found pregnant following sexual assault, her case touched off a national debate as Florida Governor Jeb Bush sought to appoint a guardian to represent the interests of her unborn child.

Now, officials say the 75-year old man allegedly responsible is mentally disabled himself.

According to two court-appointed psychologists, Phillip Strong, whose wife owned and ran a home for the disabled where the woman lived, suffers from dementia and is not capable of understanding either his actions or the court proceedings.

On Friday, Judge Alan Lawson ordered more testing of Strong, who is sometimes incoherent, to see if his condition could be improved.

That’s not likely to happen, said Strong’s attorney Jeffrey Kaufman.

"You’re not going to fix somebody at 75 years old who has these problems,” Kaufman told Judge Lawson, according to the Associated Press. "I’m surprised he remembers me every time I see him. It’s not like he’s just old. This man, he’s not there. He’s in and out.”

"Does he know as he’s standing there that he has a child? He doesn’t know he has a child," Kaufman added. He said Strong frequently can’t remember what happened only minutes before.

Lawson ruled that Strong should remain on a home confinement and a November 14 hearing will determine whether he should be sent to a psychiatric hospital. The judge can wait as long as five years to decide if Strong should stand trial for the charges of sexually assaulting a disabled person, or whether they should be dismissed.

Though two psychologists said he was incompetent, a third said there was no reason why Strong couldn’t stand trial.

The third pointed to comments Strong made to police when he was arrested saying "I have an answer" when asked if he raped the disabled woman and affirming to police that he had an attorney already.

Police say Strong smiled when they told him he was the father of the disabled woman’s child.

The development doesn’t put J.D.S., as the woman is known in court records, or her guardian at ease.

"I just feel that the victim doesn’t have the chance to have justice, that she’s not acknowledged," says Patti Jarrell.

Hester Strong was charged with neglect of a mentally ill person and her state-licensed home has been shut down.

J.D.S. gave birth to the baby in September. Her baby, known only as "Baby S," is also doing very well. She appears to be very healthy, but is undergoing testing to determine if she is mentally disabled as well.

The guardianship case is still under review by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Though it won’t impact the case, the court’s decision, expected next spring, could set a landmark legal precedent for future situations.