A judge ruled Monday that Alvin Morton is entitled to the services of a private investigator and a mental health expert in the preparation of his defense on first-degree murder charges.
The ruling came as Circuit Judge Bruce Boyer accepted pleas of innocent from attorneys for the three young men accused of murdering 75-year-old Madeline Weisser and her 55-year-old son, John Bowers, in their Hudson home last month.
A fourth defendant, Christopher Walker, already has entered a plea of innocent to a charge of being an accessory to murder after the fact.
Morton's court-appointed attorney, John Swisher, said Monday that appointments such as the ones for his 19-year-old client are the norm in very serious cases where there are many potential witnesses.
"It's not unusual," Swisher said in an interview after the court hearing. The private investigator "has the flexibility of hitting the streets, whereas I'm desk-bound much of the time. . . . In a case like this, you need as much help as you can get."
Swisher said his client was "in shock" over the charges.
The court appointment sets aside $500 for the private investigator. Swisher said he expects a private investigator will bill for work at a rate of about $30 an hour. The appointment of a psychologist or psychiatrist to evaluate a defendant pays $50 an hour, without a preset limit.
Swisher said one of his first tasks for the investigator would be to interview acquaintances of Morton quoted in local newspapers. Some of the friends confirmed the account of sheriff's detectives who said that the defendants cut off Bowers' finger and showed it to friends as they bragged of the crime.
Swisher receives $50 an hour as a court-appointed attorney, far below his private rate of $125 to $150. He said he accepts several trial appointments a year.
"It's a public service," Swisher said. "Also, that's how you stay sharp, in the courtroom."
Sam Williams, the court-appointed attorney for 17-year-old Robert Garner, indicated he intended to file motions similar to Swisher's regarding the appointment of experts to assist in defense. Robert Focht, court-appointed attorney for 14-year-old Timothy Kane, was not present for the hearing Monday.
The attorneys cannot share the services of court-appointed experts because of potential conflicts of interest. Swisher said that defense attorneys had not yet decided if the four young men should be tried together or separately.
Although the defendants were in a courthouse holding cell so they could speak with their attorneys Monday morning, they weren't brought into open court during the motion hearings. They continue to be jailed without bail.
Also on Monday, Judge Boyer ruled that defendants Morton and Garner should submit samples of their hair to authorities for testing. Strands of hair were found in the murdered man's hand. The judge said that because Kane's attorney was not present, he would rule later on a motion to compel Kane to provide a sample.
Walker was not included in the motion because he is not accused of being in the house during the murders.