- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) | Debi Joy Olson freely admits that she stalked her ex-husband across the country, then stabbed him to death last summer at a mall in Davenport, Iowa.

She is representing herself in court, saying she wants to plead guilty and go to prison. Her only regret, she said, is that she can’t be extradited to her home state of Florida, where she could face the death penalty.

But what seems like a simple case has gotten complicated and is nowhere near completion because the 53-year-old woman apparently suffers from Huntington’s disease, which wastes brain cells.

That has led the court to question her mental competence. A judge has ordered a competency evaluation and threatened to obtain medical samples by “nonconsensual means” if Ms. Olson doesn’t cooperate.

Ms. Olson, of Sarasota, Fla., faces charges of first-degree murder and willful injury in the killing of Mauricio Droguett, her husband of about 20 years.

“I gave up my country, my relatives, my friends for him 25 years ago. I will give up the rest of my life for him now,” she wrote to District Court Judge James E. Kelley in a letter titled “Confession to First Degree Murder.”

“I need to plead guilty now. … I want to go to prison for life,” she wrote in the letter, dated Oct. 14.

Ms. Olson is accused of stabbing her ex-husband 10 times at the Northpark Mall on July 10. Mr. Droguett was a comptroller for Carson & Barnes Family Circus, a Florida-based operation that was setting up in the mall parking lot.

In a series of letters to the judge, Ms. Olson detailed how she tracked Mr. Droguett across the country, bought a hammer and knife, and then confronted him in front of about a half-dozen witnesses.

In one of the letters, she wrote that no one except she and her ex-husband will ever know why she killed him, and that she “did not kill him out of anger, it was out of love.”

Ms. Olson was arrested a short time later, and police said she immediately confessed and cooperated with the investigation. Court records show she also told an officer that she had Huntington’s disease, which was causing slurred speech and stumbling.

Since her arrest, however, as court officials have questioned whether she can understand the proceedings, Ms. Olson has been less responsive and has refused to share her medical records or be evaluated by doctors. Ms. Olson discharged her lawyer two months after her arrest and chose to represent herself.

In court documents, the judge expressed concern about that decision and ordered a mental competency evaluation.

“The court became concerned during her answers that at times she referred to her deceased husband in the present tense and sometimes in the past tense,” Judge Kelley wrote.

Ms. Olson refused to be examined in November by experts from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. In response, the judge ordered an examination at the Iowa Medical Classification Center in Oakdale, although he was told a lack of psychiatrists at that prison meant the evaluation couldn’t be done there.

At a hearing last week, the judge ordered University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics experts to test Ms. Olson to determine whether she suffers from any mental or physical disease, to obtain her medical records and provide treatment. He said that if Ms. Olson doesn’t cooperate he will authorize officials to obtain medical samples of bodily fluids without her approval.

Mark Dobson, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., called the situation unusual.

“The question is whether the interests of the state outweigh her interest of bodily integrity,” he said. “The state has an interest in making sure any plea entered into is knowing and intelligent so that she can’t come back years from now” and challenge the validity of the plea.

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