The capital-murder trial of eight-time parole absconder Darrell Dennis has been delayed again after Dennis reiterated a request to represent himself in the proceeding.
Dennis, who is also charged with kidnapping and aggravated robbery in the May 10 death of 18-year-old Forrest Abrams, said in court Thursday that he wanted his court-appointed attorney, Bill James, off his case and to handle his defense himself.
Dennis was arrested less than 30 hours after his release from the Pulaski County jail, where he had been held on an absconder warrant. A June 17, 2013, 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 Thursday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza started to warn Dennis that the Arkansas Supreme Court has reversed him in earlier cases where he allowed a defendant to represent himself, telling Dennis there were very serious issues involved.
"I don't think you're capable of handling that yourself," Piazza told him.
But Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Johnson then asked the court to order a mental evaluation for Dennis, noting there is an unrelated, pending case in which a conviction may be tossed because a judge didn't go through the necessary procedures before declining a defendant's request to represent himself.
Piazza ultimately ordered the mental evaluation, which necessitated moving Dennis' trial from later this month to Sept. 22.
Dennis — who at one point during the brief hearing tried to introduce a photocopied surveillance image he said proved he didn't commit the murder — complained the mental, or Act III, evaluation was an effort to "sandbag" the case.
"There is nothing wrong with me," he said. "I have had several Act IIIs already. I am good to go."
Dennis was also critical during the hearing of James, who he accused of working with prosecutors and not acting in his interest. James was appointed after Dennis in December asked his first appointed attorneys thrown off the case, a request Piazza granted while warning it was a mistake.
"I need attorneys who represent me," Dennis said, prompting Piazza to note James is a "very capable attorney."
"He probably is when he wants to be," Dennis replied.
James was ultimately kept on the case pending the result of the mental evaluation, which will be used to determine if Dennis can represent himself.