By Jeff Lehr
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Circuit Judge David Mouton ruled Friday that the murder trial of William Laramore should remain on track for next week despite the defendant’s newly expressed desire to act as his own attorney and his related request for a continuance.
Laramore, 46, sent a notice to the judge on Thursday that he wished to “fire” his public defender and exercise his right to defend himself. He also sent the court a motion seeking a continuance to allow him time to access expert witnesses and to fortify his defense.
Laramore is charged with first-degree murder and first-degree assault in the slaying of Sean French, 46, and the beating of Steve Shockley, 50, on Nov. 14, 2010, inside the defendant’s home at 814 W. A St. in Joplin. The case is set to go to trial Wednesday in Jasper County Circuit Court, and a jury pool already has been summoned.
“I need you to understand even if I grant this request, it doesn’t mean I’m going to strike this trial setting,” Mouton told Laramore at the start of a hearing on the matter. “It’s been set for a long time.”
The defendant’s written notice that he wished to act as his own attorney expressed dissatisfaction with the representation of public defender Brett Meeker. When the judge asked him why he wished to “fire” Meeker, he said: “Because I haven’t got nothing done that I need done.”
He said “the forensics” in his case in particular need to be looked at more extensively to turn up evidence in support of a contention that he was acting in self-defense the night of the alleged crimes. The statement elicited a quick response from Assistant Prosecutor John Podleski, who told the judge it was “news to the state” that the defendant was now claiming self-defense.
“He never told police anything about self-defense,” Podleski said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Faretta v. California in 1975 that a defendant has a constitutional right to defend himself. In 2007, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the capital murder conviction of Gary Black in Jasper County, ruling that Black should have been granted the opportunity to defend himself.
After questioning Laramore about the matter, Mouton decided that the defendant was not expressing an unequivocal desire to act as his own attorney and denied his motion for a continuance.
Before making those decisions, the judge asked Laramore about his educational background and experience with the law. The defendant described himself as a stonemason who graduated from high school in California at the age of 16, but he was unable to explain how it was that he earned the credits to graduate early.
When asked what legal training or experience he had with the law, Laramore said he’d performed “paralegal stuff” in prison.
Despite references to various amendments of the U.S. Constitution in his motion for a continuance, the defendant admitted that he had not seen a lawbook in six years. When the judge asked him if he wished to reconsider his request, he responded: “Yes, but I need a continuance.”
The judge then attempted to clarify what Laramore was expressing as a desire to reconsider. Was it his intention to act as his own attorney?
“I don’t even know at this point,” the defendant said, which resulted in the judge’s decision that he was not expressing an unequivocal desire.
Judge David Mouton has granted a prosecution request to depose murder case witness and alleged assault victim Steve Shockley for the purpose of preserving his testimony for trial, since Shockley is currently hospitalized and may not be able to testify at next week’s trial of William Laramore.