Almost 22 years after being accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, a Florida man was deemed mentally competent to stand trial and accepted a plea deal on reduced murder charges in exchange for a 40-year prison sentence, court records show.
Preston Clarke, 47, pleaded guilty on Monday to the second-degree murder of Linda Faye Hollins, who was 26 when she died on March 20, 1998, the Tampa Bay Times reported. With credit for the 6,000-plus days he's spent in jail and hospitals and possible gain time for good behavior in prison, Clarke could serve his sentence in 18 years.
Hollins' sister, Georgia Sylvain told the newspaper the family is thankful to have the case behind them. “And we're thankful she has some form of justice."
She was the single mother of three daughters and friends became concerned when she didn't pick the children up from day care. Police found her dead inside her Tampa apartment, the newspaper reported.
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Clarke, who had dated Hollins, became a suspect, but police couldn't locate him. He was arrested in 2002 in South Florida, according to court records.
He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and declared incompetent to stand trial, the Times reported. He would be sent to hospitals for treatment, then returned to court where he would once again be found incompetent to stand trial.
The Times reported that Clarke was found incompetent more than 10 times.
“I didn’t think I would live to see him get any justice," Sylvain told the newspaper. "After 10 years, you think, how long is this going to go on?”
He was finally declared competent in October and his trial was set for Monday. He told the judge that day that he wanted to accept a plea deal.
He was also ordered to serve 10 years probation and to continue to take psychiatric medication, court records show.