Murder suspect Darrell Dennis got his fourth lawyer and a new trial date Tuesday after balking at the opportunity to represent himself in court, a demand he's made numerous times.
Dennis, the parolee whose arrest on capital murder and kidnapping charges prompted a 2013 legislative review of the prison system's early-release programs, was startled by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza's offer.
"You've had all of these folks and you haven't been happy with any of them," the judge said. "I'm going to grant your wishes. I'm not going to let you embroil another good lawyer in this. You've been fussing the whole time about wanting to represent yourself, so I'm going to let you."
The judge had previously denied Dennis' request to act as his own lawyer. But Piazza said he had reconsidered given Dennis' constant complaining about the attorneys chosen to represent him. The judge has released three lawyers during the 19 months of proceedings because Dennis did not get along with them.
"I didn't ask for that [request] to be renewed," Dennis said. "I don't understand what's going on."
None of his previous lawyers had conducted necessary witness interviews to prepare for trial, Dennis told the judge.
"You never let a lawyer stay on your case long enough," Piazza responded.
"I'm not trying to sandbag this case. I'm ready to go to trial," Dennis said.
But pressed by the judge on whether he really wanted to represent himself, with an attorney sitting with him to advise him, Dennis would never answer yes or no, instead questioning the judge about how he could prepare for trial or whether he could decide during the trial to accept a lawyer.
Dennis' assertion that no trial preparation had been done was disputed by his new lawyer, Tom Devine, who heads the county's three-person public defender conflicts office, which represents indigent defendants who do not qualify for representation by the main public defender office.
Devine said he and Dennis' original lawyer, Julia Jackson, had interviewed several witnesses before Jackson was removed from representing Dennis in December 2013.
With Devine accepting representation, the judge agreed to push back Dennis' April trial to May.
Chief deputy prosecutor John Johnson told the judge that Dennis was trying to "game" the court with his constant complaining about his lawyers.
Dennis, 49, is charged with capital murder and kidnapping over accusations that he and two other men, whose identities are unknown, abducted two men from a southwest Little Rock convenience store and killed one of them, 18-year-old Forrest Abrams, in May 2013. Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Dennis, who has 23 felony convictions.
At the time of Abrams' slaying, Dennis was on parole despite having picked up 10 felony drug charges during the 4½ years since he'd been released from prison. He'd never had a parole revocation hearing during that time and had just been released from jail in connection with the drug charges 32 hours before Abrams was killed. Those 10 charges netted Dennis, whose parole was eventually revoked, a 60-year prison term about five months after Abrams' death.
Metro on 03/04/2015
Print Headline: Murder suspect gets 4th lawyer