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Palm Coast Monday, Sep. 30, 2019 2 weeks ago

Joseph Bova found guilty in fatal 2013 shooting of Mobil station clerk Zuheily Rosado

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The jury deliberated for approximately 40 minutes before delivering its verdict.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

After six years, Joseph Frank Bova has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2013 execution-style shooting of 32-year-old Mobil gas station clerk Zuheily Rosado. 

"The entire case rests upon the word of Joseph Bova. ... No, he wasn’t hearing voices. Nobody before this murder heard him talking to voices. The voices only came up when he got caught. Therefore, everything that he said, you can discount. You should discount."

MARK JOHNSON, assistant state attorney

A jury of six women and six men found Bova guilty after deliberating for approximately 40 minutes on Sept. 30. Bova displayed no reaction after the verdict was read in court.

Having spent much of the past six years in a state mental hospital, Bova will spend the rest of his life in prison: Judge Terence Perkins imposed a mandatory life sentence on Bova immediately after the trial.

The trial began with jury selection on Sept. 23.

Bova — after initially telling detectives he had nothing to do with the shooting — had eventually admitted to killing Rosado, a mother of six, but said he was insane at the time of the shooting.

In insanity defense cases, the burden of proving the defendant's insanity rests on the defense. The trial was delayed for years as Bova, who displayed erratic behavior in court hearings and said he was hearing voices, was alternately found incompetent and competent to stand trial.

His defense team brought in an expert to suggest that Bova had sustained brain damage from being hit by a vehicle while he was riding a dirt bike as a teen, and that he's also been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and hears voices — something Bova mentioned again and again in his testimony before the jury on Sept. 27. 

"The voices would tell me to do things all day long; it was just very stressful; I was completely insane from not sleeping and hearing voices," he said. 

The voices, he'd told the jury, had told him that Rosado was the devil and that she killed people by looking at them, and that he therefore had to kill her. 

But he also admitted that he'd at first been reticent to follow the voices' direction — an admission that prosecutor Mark Johnston told the jury indicated that Bova knew right from wrong, and therefore was not legally insane, at the time of the shooting.

Zuheily Rosado, the victim, as seen in a photo displayed in court by the prosecution on the final day of the trial.

"It took them a while before they convinced me to shoot her," Bova told the jury. "They just kept saying that she was killing all these people ...  and they made me think that it was the right thing to do because she was the devil. ... I thought I was doing the right thing."

He'd also said that it was the voices that told him to cover his face — so that she couldn't see him and kill him with her eyes — and that it was the voices that had told him to park away from the gas station, nearer the Coconuts Car Wash building.

Prosecutors said it wasn't "voices" directing Bova to take those actions: It was his own desire not to get caught.

MENTALLY ILL, BUT NOT INSANE

After the shooting, living in his car in South Florida, Bova bought caulk from Home Depot, injection needles from a Rite Aid, and performed what the defense called a makeshift rhinoplasty on himself using the rear view mirror in his car, injecting the caulk into his face.

He'd approached an actual surgeon, he said, but was told the surgery would cost $10,000, which he didn't have. 

For the defense, the disfiguring procedure was evidence of Bova's insanity: He was obsessed with women, they said, and the voices had told him that if he changed his nose he'd be more attractive to them.

"They [the voices] made me think that it was the right thing to do because she was the devil and they said that I was specially chosen. ... I thought I was doing the right thing."

—JOSEPH BOVA

But prosecutors seized on another potential motive: Bova had injected caulk into his face, Johnson said, because he'd killed a woman, and wanted to change his appearance to evade police.

Dr. William Meadows, a forensic psychologist called by the prosecution, and also a former director at the psychiatric Florida State Hospital, said that Bova's assertions about constantly hearing voices pointed to malingering, not insanity. Even people wth severe psychosis, Meadows said, don't hear voices all the time. Bova had said he'd been hearing them 24/7.

Meadows' testimony conflicted with that of a mental health expert, Dr. Joseph Sesta, who'd testified on behalf of the defense on Sept. 27 that Bova has schizophrenia and had been motivated by delusions and auditory hallucinations. But even Sesta had said that he couldn't state what Bova's mental state was at the time of the murder; and Meadows stated unequivocally that Bova, though mentally ill, was not insane on the sate of the shooting.

"He just seemed really motivated to be found insane," Meadows said of his court-ordered interview of Bova. "He just immediately went to, without me even asking him, 'The voices made me do it.'"As to Bova's reports that he'd had multiple psychiatric hospitalizations since his teen years, Meadows said, there was only a record of one: For anxiety and bipolar disorder, not schizophrenia.

An antipsychotic medication prescribed to Bova at the time, which Sesta had argued was evidence that Bova had psychotic symptoms even as a youth, is also commonly prescribed for bipolar disorder, Meadows said. 

Similarly, he said, there was no evidence that the incident in which Bova was struck by a car as a teen resulted in serious brain injury. 

"There was no evidence of any kind of neurological injury; he had a CT scan of his brain; that was negative," as were other such tests, Meadows said. "I think it’s clear that he had a concussion that resolved itself likely within a few days."

Meadows said that Bova's ability to successfully take a full course load of college classes and run his own landscaping business were inconsistent with his assertions that he was constantly hearing voices. And no witnesses had indicated seeing the kind of behavior associated with someone who's experiencing auditory hallucinations, Meadows said.

"When people are grossly psychotic, as he claims to have been, typically they’re going show problems … he has no history of this whatsoever," Meadows said. "I'm looking at the records, and I don't see the descriptors that you typically see, such as chattering to himself, yelling at the voices, being preoccupied by voices."

When Meadows had pressed Bova on evidence that Bova had taken steps to evade apprehension, Meadows said, Bova "became very nervous," then blamed those actions on the voices.

COVERING HIS TRACKS

Then there were the inconsistencies in Bova's statements. For instance, the defense had said that Bova had covered his face because he thought Rosado could kill him with his eyes. 

"Now, he has a mental illness, but that's not a sufficient condition to be found insane. ... He knew that this was illegal, that it was wrong, and that he would be apprehended."

—WILLIAM MEADOWS, psychologist

But that wasn't what he'd told Meadows. The following, Meadows said, is what Bova had said during an interview: "I put the shirt over my head because I knew there was a camera there."

And, prosecutors noted, Bova had not covered his face when he'd gone to the gas station earlier in the evening and used the ATM machine there.

He'd cut eye holes in the shirt and driven to the scene wearing it — indicating some knowledge that what he was doing was wrong, and the awareness needed to attempt to cover his tracks by avoiding being seen, Meadows said. He also drove away wearing the shirt over his head. 

Bova had also told Meadows that he knew, when he was driving to the gas station, that he was going to kill Rosado, indicating premeditation.  He'd admitted that he'd gone to the gas station several hours before the shooting, using the ATM there, to make sure Rosado was there that night. 

And after the shooting, he'd withdrawn a large amount of cash, packed hastily, and left town in a vehicle in an Audi sedan, not the Chevrolet pickup he'd driven to the scene of the crime. Later, he sold the truck.

He'd avoided checking into hotels, even though he had access to money, Meadows said. He avoided using credit cards, even thought he admitted to Meadows that he'd used them in the past. He went to Key West, then Miami, then Boca Raton.

He'd been sleeping in his car when law enforcement officers found him, in Boca Raton, in possession of the SCCY 9-mm semiautomatic handgun used in the shooting.

"My opinion is that he was legally sane at the time that he killed the victim," Meadows said. "Now, he has a mental illness, but that's not a sufficient condition to be found insane. ... The evidence in this case is entirely clear ... that he knew what he was doing when he killed this individual. ... There are multiple behaviors here that he knew that this was illegal, that it was wrong, and that he would be apprehended."

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