SEBRING — An elderly woman repeatedly arrested for illegally feeding bears has been declared incompetent to stand trial.
At a future hearing, a judge will decide how to deal with Mary Musselman, in light of the determination, said her attorney, William Fletcher.
Earlier this year, Musselman, who was 81 years old when she was first arrested, was released from the Highlands County Jail and placed in an assisted living facility.
Fletcher had argued that Musselman should not be in jail but instead should receive a mental evaluation.
According to a an order signed last week by Circuit Judge William Sites, two psychologists — one chosen by the defense and one chosen by the prosecution — both declared that Musselman is incompetent to stand trial.
That eliminated the need for an evaluation by a third psychologist, the order states.
A hearing Monday on a violation of probation charge against her was delayed in county court in light of Sites’ order.
Assistant State Attorney Steve Houchin said a declaration of incompetency is different from someone being declared insane. A person is insane legally if they don’t understand the difference between right and wrong, he said.
An incompetent person may be someone who lacks the capacity to understand what is going on during a trial and to assist their attorney, Houchin said.
A person can be incompetent because of dementia, a head injury or some other factor that makes it difficult for them participate, he said.
Just because a person is declared incompetent doesn’t mean they will never be tried, Houchin said.
In some cases, steps are taken to help a person to become competent for trial, he said. But, in others, a person may never become competent.
A person with dementia, for example, may be placed in an assistant living facility, he said.
As for Musselman, she continues to remain in an assisted living facility.
Her arrests have divided the community. Some say she shouldn’t be treated like a criminal. Others said her actions endangered her neighbors by making bears less fearful of humans.
Musselman, a former teacher who was never in trouble with the law, was found to be feeding bears last year at her residence on Kenilworth Boulevard. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers warned her about the dangers of doing so, but she continued, authorities said.
She was arrested four times in connection with illegally feeding bears.
After she was initially arrested, a judge gave her the opportunity to have her record cleared if she stopped feeding bears. But she was arrested again and put on probation.
When authorities discovered she continued to feed bears, she was arrested a third time and charged with violation of probation. In one incident, she also was charged with felony charges of resisting an officer with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer.
Even then, when she was released on bond — and ordered not to put out any food for animals — and a neighbor and her husband agreed to watch her, she was found once again to be putting food out for animals.
Authorities arrested her again. A judge agreed to release her on condition she would be put into an assisted living facility.