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In Hillsborough court, murder suspect Khalid Pasha gets wish to defend himself

TAMPA — Khalid Pasha sat at his defense table Thursday, listening as the prosecutors who wanted him put to death cataloged the evidence against him:

DNA. Witnesses. The blood of two dead women found on his face and hair.

The stakes are so high in cases like this that lawyers must have years of experience and special training to become officially qualified to defend the accused.

But the 69-year-old defendant trusted no one but himself.

He'd spent years filing handwritten motions, accusing the state of evidence tampering and a judge of racial prejudice.

Finally, he had a stage. As Pasha approached the jury, no one stopped him. He had a right to defend himself, even if legal experts would warn it was a horrendous, potentially lethal idea.

He gave an opening statement that offered no alibi, no alternative suspects, no explanation for the state's evidence.

Just an ambitious proposition:

"I will prove to you," he said, "that this case is made up of half truths and lies. …

"I might make a mistake because I'm not an attorney. …

"But I will do the best I can."

• • •

It has been 11 years since deputies found Pasha leaving the Woodland Corporate Center on Waters Avenue, his 43-year-old wife, Robin Canady, and her 20-year-old daughter, Ranesha Singleton, dead nearby, their throats slit, their blood on a hazmat suit in the van he was driving.

His defense attorney was ready for his first-degree murder trial in 2007, but a week before, Pasha asked for a new lawyer.

Pasha had represented himself on and off, and said he and his attorney disagreed on strategy.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente found that the lawyer was doing an adequate job and denied Pasha's request.

He also denied Pasha's request to represent himself, ruling that Pasha had expressed a preference to have the help of a lawyer, just not the one he got.

Pasha was convicted and sentenced to death.

But in 2010, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Pasha should've been allowed to represent himself.

So for almost three years, Pasha has continued to mount his defense, trying to suppress evidence, penning motions with titles like "The Historical Odyssey Regarding Events of Petitioner Since His Return To This Court."

• • •

After opening statements Thursday, Pasha demanded to examine every piece of evidence presented to the jury.

Two attorneys sat by in case he needed them. But he led his own defense.

He inspected an envelope containing swabs and felt through the paper with his thumbs.

He stared at a crime scene diagram, asking, "What is this supposed to be?"

He asked questions the state's first witness did not understand, which led to objections and bench conferences, jurors shifting in their seats and staring at the clock.

12:11 p.m.

12:20 p.m.

The judge gave them a break, but Pasha and the prosecutors remained in the courtroom, to deal with motions the defendant had filed, rehashing previously denied requests and making new ones Circuit Judge Kimberly Fernandez did not understand.

"Slavery?" she asked as she read. "I think it's been abolished already. I don't understand what you're asking me to do."

"Your honor, this is a really touchy subject," he replied, his request still unclear.

The prosecutor suggested Pasha did not want to be called by his "original English name" but instead by his legal name, Khalid A. Pasha.

The judge agreed that was fine; no one knew his "English name."

Court adjourned for lunch.

Pasha returned upset. He accused the judge of laughing while she read his motion. She explained she had not. He said he didn't feel like continuing.

But the trial went on.

Times photojournalist Edmund D. Fountain contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354.

In Hillsborough court, murder suspect Khalid Pasha gets wish to defend himself 01/17/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 12:02am]
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