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Circuit judge grows weary of defendant's firing line

Nicholas Altamuro Jr. is not a lawyer. He says he has "mental issues." He takes medication.

"But I'm a very intelligent man," he told the court Wednesday, wearing shackles. "I have some understanding of the law."

Altamuro says he can tell his lawyer what to do in his defense against an attempted murder charge and a possible life sentence.

He's been through two lawyers already. Altamuro, 47, tried to fire the third Wednesday.

"I've got nothing but disdain from him," Altamuro said. "He treats me like a 3-year-old."

Assistant Public Defender Dean Livermore said he refused to sign Altamuro's checklist of questions - and told him to stop him sending notes from jail.

"I told him to stop killing trees," Livermore said. "We're working on the case."

Circuit Judge Stanley Mills told Altamuro if he fires the third lawyer, there won't be a fourth.

"Here's the problem, Mr. Altamuro: You're not going to run this case," Mills said. "The lawyers are going to run this case."

Altamuro asked the judge to appoint an attorney to represent him in his appeal of the judge's decision not to fire his current lawyer. Mills said no to that, too, telling the defendant he can appeal after the trial - if he's convicted.

Finally, Altamuro admitted he needs help with the law.

"I'm not an attorney," he said.

"That's painfully obvious," Mills said.

Assistant State Attorney Mary Handsel said Altamuro's real problem is with the evidence against him. He's accused of stabbing his ex-girlfriend dozens of times Aug. 24, 2005. Donna Johnston survived, and the prosecutor said she dialed 911 during the attack, getting it all on tape.

Said Handsel: "I don't think he's going to be happy with any attorney."