SEBRING - A woman placed in the Highlands County jail after being accused of repeatedly illegally feeding bears is now living an assisted living facility, authorities said Wednesday.
Mary Musselman, 81, did not leave the facility to attend a hearing in Highlands County Circuit Court Wednesday on her mental competency. That hearing was delayed until April 16.
Assistant State Attorney Gary Ellis said that even though Musselman is living in a secured area of an assisted living facility, she is essentially still in jail.
"She's not physically in the jail, but in a way she's in jail," Ellis said. "If she were to be released from the assisted living facility, there's a special condition that she be returned to the jail."
That is in place so Musselman doesn't have the opportunity to put food out for bears and place people in harm's way, he said.
Musselman, a former teacher without a prior criminal record, was arrested last year after repeatedly refusing to comply with laws that bar feeding of bears. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials say if bears are fed, the animals lose their fear of humans and become a threat. And that usually leads to the animals being euthanized, they say.
Initially, Musselman was placed on deferred conviction with the idea that if she complied with the law her record would be cleared. But, after she was again discovered feeding bears, she was placed on probation and ordered not to feed any animals, other than her pets, for a year.
Commission officers soon accused her of feeding animals again, and she was placed in jail. After she promised not to feed animals, she was released. Earlier this month, she was jailed again after being accused of feeding animals.
Ellis said the next step for Musselman is determining whether she was competent at the time she fed the animals and whether she is competent now.
It's likely she will get two mental examinations, he said. If they disagree, a third exam will be used "as sort of a tiebreaker," Ellis said.
If ultimately she's determined incompetent, the court can get mental treatment services for her, he said.
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