CLEARWATER — Craig Wall told a judge Friday he is willing to plead guilty to murdering the mother of his child.
During his first pretrial hearing, Wall asked Circuit Judge Richard Luce to separate the two first-degree murder charges he faces — one for the death of his 5-week-old son, Craig Jr., and one for the death of his 29-year-old girlfriend, Laura Taft.
Luce refused to accept his plea or to separate the cases, telling Wall he needed to wait until he is assigned a new public defender next week.
Wall's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Ron Eide, withdrew from the case, citing a conflict of interest. He did not elaborate.
Wall asked Luce what would happen if he represented himself. Luce said that question should also wait until he gets a new attorney. Wall's next hearing is June 11.
Wall, who is being held at Pinellas County Jail without bail, is accused of stabbing Taft on Feb. 18 after violating a domestic violence injunction she filed against him. Their son died under his care at their Clearwater apartment Feb. 5.
Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe has said he will seek the death penalty.
Taft's parents, stepparents and older brother sat behind the prosecutors during Friday morning's hearing. They chose those seats, they said, to be sure Wall knew they were there to get justice for Taft.
Wall walked in wearing a navy blue jail uniform and clutching his statement. He had grown a thick, dark beard since Taft's parents last saw him.
Her mother, Rhonda Lyon-Buttita, started to cry.
"I didn't anticipate him to say guilty," she said after the hearing. "It was a little shocking."
Against his attorney's advice, Wall read a statement outlining frustrations with Eide along with his desire to separate the cases and plead guilty to murdering Taft.
Wall said he has asked Eide for two months to give him copies of evidence gathered in the cases.
"Mr. Eide has no more right to withhold evidence from me than the prosecutor does," Wall said. Eide did not respond.
Cynthia Bredeson, Taft's stepmother, said she used to feel sorry for Wall. He would often visit and tell stories of an abusive childhood. She's not convinced about the charges involving his son. "I don't think he meant to kill the baby," she said. "That was an accident."
But now she's torn. Even though she believes the baby's death was accidental, she wants justice for Taft. "The thing with my stepdaughter's just been terrible," she said.