A judge on Tuesday warned an eight-time absconder charged in a Little Rock killing that he was making a mistake by asking for new public defenders, but he granted the request anyway.
Darrell Dennis, who officials said Tuesday won't face the death penalty if convicted of charges including capital murder, kidnapping and aggravated robbery in the May 10 death of 18-year-old Forrest Abrams, was arrested less than 30 hours after his release from the Pulaski County jail. He had been held there on an absconder warrant.
A June 17 article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette revealed the lengthy parole-violation history of Dennis before his arrest, sparking a systemwide review of the state parole system that in turn led to a change in leadership and numerous policy shifts.
On Tuesday, Dennis was back in court several weeks after filing a handwritten motion seeking to represent himself and to have his appointed public defenders thrown off the case because of a conflict of interest. He said in court that they represented him in another case in a different division.
First, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza denied the request for Dennis to represent himself, saying it's "almost impossible" for a defendant to do so in a case as complex as capital murder.
"It just never happens," Piazza said.
But Piazza then did grant the request for a change of public defenders, though he warned Dennis it wasn't the best move.
"You're making a mistake in that these are really great lawyers," Piazza said. "But I'm going to give you the right to make that mistake."
One of Dennis' attorneys, Julia Jackson, told the judge before being dismissed from the case that prosecutors had waived the death penalty for Dennis.
At the end of the hearing, Dennis moved to make an "oral motion to dismiss" the case, but Piazza cut him off.
"We'll let you have your day in court," the judge said. "But not today."
Piazza told attorneys he would attempt to have new public defenders added to the case at a hearing Thursday in a bid to preserve a trial set to begin Feb. 3.
As he was being escorted by bailiffs from the courthouse, Dennis clutched a crumpled paper bag of case documents and said he was "grateful" for the judge's decision. And, he said, he didn't have second thoughts after being warned it was a mistake.
"We'll see," Dennis said.