1. Archive

Attorney asks out of killing trial

The attorney for murder defendant Walter Daniel Czubak filed a motion Thursday to remove himself from the case after being advised by the Florida Bar that he has a possible ethical conflict. Although Czubak's case, sent back by the Florida Supreme Court for retrial, is scheduled to begin Monday, attorney William Sestak said he is "in a box" and must ask to be removed. If his request is granted, the trial would have to be delayed.

The latest twist in the case involves Sestak's indirect link to a key state witness. On Wednesday, Sestak filed a motion asking the court to force the public defender's office to release its file on Dorothy Schultz, the witness.

Sestak has said the file contains psychological information about Schultz that might impugn her credibility as a prosecution witness against Czubak, who is charged with the 1985 strangulation of 81-year-old Thelma Peterson of Zephyrhills.

Sestak's possible conflict arises from an unrelated 1981 case in which the public defender's office represented Schultz on a charge of battery of a law enforcement officer.

At the time, Sestak was the chief assistant public defender, and the office prepared a defense for Schultz contending that she was innocent by reason of insanity based on psychological findings.

Although Sestak did not handle that case, he was a member of the agency that did.

To compel that agency to produce incriminating documents on a former client to help defend a new one could call the new trial's outcome into question.

The issue was brought up during a brief hearing Thursday morning in front of Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper, who was handling the matter because the judge on Czubak's case is out of town.

Because Sestak's request probably will delay the trial, Tepper deferred the decision to Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson during pretrial motions Monday.

She also extended until Monday the public defender's deadline to produce the files or to submit a motion of protest.

But she did review two psychological reports sealed in the clerk of court's files and said some of the information "could be significant" in addressing Schultz's credibility.

"The type of treatment she has had may also be of value," said Tepper.

Czubak, meanwhile, remains jailed in the 1985 slaying of Peterson, with whom he lived in Zephyrhills.

His case was sent back by the Florida Supreme Court last year for two reasons.

The first was a comment made by Dorothy Schultz during the 1988 trial. Schultz mentioned that she was unaware when she became acquainted with Czubak that he was an escaped prisoner.

The second reason cited by the Supreme Court was the state's use of gruesome photographs of Peterson's decomposed body.