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Judge warns it's a mistake but grants Dennis request for new attorneys

Dennis won't face death penalty, attorney says

By Gavin Lesnick

This article was published December 17, 2013 at 10:51 a.m.


Darrell Dennis looks over case paperwork Tuesday after an appearance in Pulaski County Circuit Court.

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.

Comments on: Judge warns it's a mistake but grants Dennis request for new attorneys

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Fdworfe says... December 17, 2013 at 4:39 p.m.

It’s the nincompoop factor—the cost of doing the business in a democracy, the price we pay for freedom, the demands of constant tinkering with our system to uphold fairness and equality, the infinite patience that all authorities must have to preserve appearances. It’s the zone of uncertainty and equivocation where a citizen is not crazy enough to be involuntarily institutionalized and not criminal enough to be summarily locked up for the rest of his life so others are safe from his witless criminal mind. Yes, the price of caution, we could say, for without paying it, we’d be efficient and logical but we’d be totalitarian, wouldn’t we? Meantime, we keep paying—and gritting our teeth. And for our own sanity, we must keep hoping that benevolent brain alterations are just around the corner in our evolution so that the cost of coddling nincompoops won’t be prohibitive.

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JessePinkman says... December 17, 2013 at 6:41 p.m.

Liberal paradise: let him out, he can be rehabiliated. Once he does this blame the system say the liberals.

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