LARGO — On the first day of his murder trial, Robert Glenn Temple told a jury, "I know nothing about the law" and "I'm probably the dumbest guy you'll ever meet when it comes to that."
But that has not stopped him from acting as his own attorney, and on Monday he faced trial on a charge of murdering his wife, Rosemary Christensen, in 1999.
"My name is Robert Temple, I'm the accused in this case," he told potential jurors. "I don't expect anybody to like me before this trial is over."
But if jurors really listen to both sides, he said, "I'm going home to be with my children and grandchildren."
Assistant State Attorney William Loughery objected to that comment, saying Temple was supposed to be asking jurors questions at that stage, not making arguments.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Philip J. Federico agreed, and even Temple seemed to concede it. "I'm not one of these three learned attorneys over here,'' he said, referring to the trio of prosecutors working against him. "I'm just a guy that's wanting to defend myself and tell the truth."
But prosecutors say he's just a guy who killed his wife and got his girlfriend to help him cover it up.
After Christensen disappeared in 1999, Temple told reporters he was worried and wanted to find her.
But his girlfriend, Lesley L. Stewart, later stepped forward and said Temple stabbed Christensen to death. Stewart says Temple persuaded her to help dispose of the body, and convinced her she would go to prison if she ever told anyone. She came forward anyway in 2008, nearly a decade after Christensen was killed. She also helped authorities find Christensen's body.
On Monday, Temple, 61, appeared in court in a wheelchair, wearing short-sleeved jail scrubs over long johns. Acting as his own attorney meant Temple himself was allowed to question jurors about whether they could be impartial.
At one point in the morning, the judge, attorneys and Temple retreated to a conference room to talk individually to jurors who said they had heard some news coverage about the case.
"I think he's guilty," one woman said, after Federico questioned her in a conference room.
"Thank you for your honesty," Temple said politely.
The conference room proved too intimate for some, because jurors sat at a table about a dozen feet away from the man accused of murder. When Federico asked whether one potential juror thought Temple was guilty, she said, "I don't like to answer that" when he was sitting so close.
Temple chuckled and said, "It's all right, I can't get out of my wheelchair."
She added that "quite honestly, I'm a little suspicious" about his guilt.
Early Monday, before potential jurors were brought into the courtroom, Temple sparred with Federico over various legal issues.
Temple complained that as a jail inmate, arrangements had not been made for him to view several CDs and DVDs of evidence against him. He complained that he wished someone could provide him with better clothes.
At another point, Temple argued a legal regulation called the Williams rule should prevent a key witness from talking about crimes he may have committed in the past. Federico said this would not violate the Williams rule, for reasons that would be easier to explain "if you'd gone to law school."
Temple complained to Federico that "I already know you're prejudiced and biased against me."
"That's productive," Federico deadpanned.
At another point, Temple complained to Federico, "You've already found me guilty, so what difference does it make?"
Temple also said he intended to let the potential jurors know that he had been made to wear a device on his leg that will give him an electric shock if officials decide he is acting out in the courtroom.
"No, you're not going to do that," Federico told him. And he didn't.
Although Temple has been planning for months to represent himself, he changed his mind early Monday, and the judge asked his standby counsel, Assistant Public Defender Mary Obermeyer, if she could step in. She said it would take more time for her to prepare.
Then Temple changed his mind again, and said he wanted to represent himself after all.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.