Bombshell testimony during the trial for a Key Largo man convicted Tuesday of targeting cops during a 2015 road rampage shootout came not only from the officers themselves, but from the registered nurse and nurse practitioner who asked defendant Robert Schminky boilerplate questions during a preliminary health screening the morning he was booked into jail.
A six-member jury found Schminky, 60, guilty Tuesday afternoon after less than two hours of deliberation of two counts of first-degree attempted murder, aggravated assault, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and fleeing and eluding police under aggravated circumstances. Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia presided over the trial and has not yet set a sentencing date.
When Yamilet Burk, the registered nurse who interviewed Schminky when he was brought to Key West jail the morning of Jan. 21, 2015, asked him if he was a “public official” “charged with a shocking crime that could cause embarrassment,” which is a standard question on a computerized form, Schminky responded yes, but expanded his answer.
“I was shooting at cops through a windshield, so that can’t be good,” Schminky told Burk, according to her testimony Monday evening at the Plantation Key courthouse.
Schminky’s attorney, Hal Schuhmacher, argued his client was not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, saying Schminky did not remember shooting at police because he was suffering withdrawal symptoms after suddenly quitting the anti-anxiety medication Paxil.
But, according to Margaret Cocuzza, a nurse practitioner who worked at the jail the morning Schminky was booked, he indicated to her he at least knew what set off his string of violent acts. Cocuzza read from the form she completed that day, stating Schminky “was having issues with his wife, who was driving him crazy, but he thinks he took care of that.”
Schminky, 60, beat his wife Honour Schminky so savagely with a shotgun, swinging it like a golf club while holding the barrel, that he broke her arm, several of her ribs and the stock of the weapon in the process. The attack on his wife outside their Buttonwood Drive home late Jan. 20, 2015, precipitated the shootout with police. Honour Schminky, who was a cooperating witness for the prosecution, decided last spring to help her husband’s defense. She declined to comment following the jury’s verdict.
Honour Schminky called 911, first from the couple’s land line, saying her husband was threatening her with violence. She had been asking him all night about a pending doctor’s appointment at the Miami Veterans Affairs hospital, and Robert Schminky reportedly told her repeatedly to leave it alone. While Honour was on the phone with the 911 operator, Robert Schminky pulled the cord out of the wall jack. She then called back on her cell phone. That’s when Schminky attacked.
The audio of the violence was played last week on the opening day of the trial. On the tape, Honour Schminky repeatedly begs for help and pleas with her husband to stop beating her. Meanwhile, every thump from the shotgun making contact with her body can be heard.
When two Monroey County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived, Schminky calmly walked past one of them on the street, fired two shotgun blasts into the ground and drove off in his Lexus SUV. Another deputy and a Florida Highway Patrol trooper chased Schminky from his neighborhood, off mile marker 100, through several subdivisions, and finally to County Road 905, parallel to the 18 Mile Stretch of U.S. 1 that leads in and out of the Keys.
On 905, Schminky began firing at Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Sydney Whitehouse, who returned fire through his driver-side window. Schminky turned around and headed south on 905, sideswiping FHP Cpl. Christine Gracey’s car. Whitehouse and Gracey caught up with Schminky in the parking lot of the Circle K located at the entrance of the Stretch and 905 at mile marker 106. Gracey attempted to use her push bar on the front of her cruiser to T-bone Schminky’s Lexus into the woods, but he accelerated toward her car, visibly holding a pistol. He rammed Gracey’s car, firing several bullets into the vehicle, narrowly missing the trooper.
Gracey held off on immediately shooting back because she did not want to strike the several deputies surrounding both vehicles. When she managed to dislodge her car from Schminky’s, she fired back once through her windshield, but missed her target.
Whitehouse exited his car and began firing at Schminky’s car. Schminky was still firing and a bullet ricocheted and hit Whitehouse in the leg. Schminky drove off again after the gunfire exchange.
He turned into St. Justin Martyr Catholic church at mile marker 105.5. Deputy Nestor Argote saw him running toward him with a pistol pointed forward. Argote fired 10 shots at Schminky, but missed. Argote and Sgt Barney Sajdak caught up with Schminky, who ditched his loaded handgun, in a field behind the church.
Argote struggled to cuff Schminky until Sajdak butt stroked Schminky in the back of the head with his rifle, which finally ended the ordeal.
Both Gracey and Whitehouse attended the verdict hearing, but Whitehouse declined to comment. An emotional Gracey had few words.
“It’s finally over,” she said.
Both officers were awarded the Medal of Valor by their respective departments.
Schuhmacher argued his client was not guilty due to temporary insanity caused by “Paxil discontinuation syndrome.” His wife became a witness for the defense last spring after more than two years cooperating with Monroe County State Attorney’s Office prosecutors. Honour Schminky, as well as several neighbors and co-workers, testified during the trial that Schminky was a laid back person with no history of violence.
Robert Schminky was diagnosed with depression and one of his doctors prescribed him with Paxil in October 2015. According to his medical records, Schminky became more anxious after taking the medication, so he discontinued using it as of Dec. 3 of that year.
But psychiatrist Dr. Stefan Rose testified that Schminky continued taking Paxil until about three days before his rampage, and stopped abruptly. This caused him to snap and become violent, and not to remember the attack. Rose said Paxil is among a number of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs that can cause bizarre side effects if someone quits using them all at once rather than tapering off of them.
“Paxil is the worst offender when it come to discontinuation syndrome,” Rose said.
Out of the roughly 50 million Americans taking some sort of SSRI, about 39,000 experience some degree of adverse withdrawal symptoms, Rose said, citing U.S. Food and Drug Administration statistics. Most of those cases, and the most severe among them, happen with Paxil, Rose said.
But Dr. Daniel Bober, a psychiatrist specializing in mental illness and addiction treatment, testified for the prosecution that Paxil discontinuation syndrome is a real thing, but patients typically don’t become violent and then suffer amnesia.
And, he said, relying on Schminky’s medical records, that he stopped using Paxin more than six weeks before the attack, and that someone coming off the drug would be over it within a week. Asked by Assistant State Attorney Gail Connolly what then could have caused Schminky to attack his wife and then police, Bober responded that it was likely a mixture of pent-up anger and alcohol. Schminky told his doctors he drank up to 10 beers a day at the time.
“Sometimes people have a propensity for anger and a perfect storm comes along,” Bober said. “And they just go off.”
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204