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Michael Ivory Collins, accused of murdering a Little Rock mother and her two pre-school-age children, will not face the death penalty, prosecutors announced at a Wednesday hearing, during which the 26-year-old defendant said he plans to represent himself at trial.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herb Wright approved Collins' request to remove his public defenders after warning Collins repeatedly about the hurdles he will have to overcome to effectively represent himself at trial, which is two weeks away. Collins faces life sentences in two separate capital-murder cases.

Pulaski County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Johnson told the judge the decision to forgo execution as a penalty has nothing to do with Collins' decision to represent himself. He said prosecutors are waiving the death penalty because Collins' half-brother, co-defendant William Burnelle Alexander, rejected a plea deal that would have required him to cooperate with authorities.

Collins is scheduled to stand trial Oct. 16 on accusations he and his brother killed 24-year-old mother of three Mariah Cunningham, her 4-year-old son Elijah Fisher and 5-year-old daughter A'Laylaih Fisher at their Little Rock apartment in December 2017. Police have connected him to the killings through DNA. Investigators say the victims' blood was found on Collins' shoes when he was arrested in Chicago, two days after the killings.

The brothers are also accused in the July 2017 slaying of 64-year-old Billie "Candy Man" Thornton in his Little Rock apartment, although their trials have not been scheduled.

Collins, a high-school dropout who obtained his general education diploma while imprisoned for a federal firearm crime, will be completely on his own at trial, Wright said, unless his now ex-legal team, Jeff Rosenzweig and Katherine Streett, choose to volunteer their assistance and Collins chooses to accept it.

"They're volunteers from this point on. You're going to carry the weight," Wright told Collins. "I've never seen this work out well for someone in your position, representing themselves."

Collins addressed a handwritten motion to the judge last week asserting his constitutional right to represent himself. The one-page document states that he wanted to "terminate the ineffective assistance of counsel" but did not describe any grievances against his lawyers, both of whom have extensive experience representing capital-murder defendants.

Self-representation is an almost absolute right, and Wright said he had no grounds to force Collins to accept legal assistance. The judge also warned Collins that by acting as his own lawyer, he'll be treated just like any other attorney. If he can't properly articulate the right legal argument to introduce evidence or object to it, the judge won't advise him or give him any extra consideration, Wright said.

The judge also told Collins, who has been jailed for 18 months, that his ongoing incarceration also will make it difficult for him to interview witnesses to prepare for trial

Metro on 10/03/2019

Print Headline: Suspect in deaths dismisses attorneys


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