1. News

A fool for a client? 7 who acted as their own attorney

[object Object]
Published Feb. 21, 2013

This week in a Pinellas courtroom, convicted rapist William Chad Routenberg is representing himself at his murder trial. Routenberg has no legal experience and has been preparing to defend himself for six days. He fired his attorney late last week.

In 2011, authorities say, Routenberg murdered his girlfriend, 24-year-old Shanessa Lynn Chappie and buried her body in the backyard. On Tuesday, Routenberg helped select the six-person jury that will decide his fate. He faces up to life in prison.

This prompted our researchers to find some other cases of defendants in serious trials who decided to represent themselves. Here are those cases in which the defendant acted as their own attorney, also known as pro se, a Latin term that means "for oneself" or "on one's own behalf." There's an old saying, familiar to lawyers, that anyone who represents himself has a fool for a client and an idiot for a lawyer.

• January 2013: Khalid Ali Pasha, 69, is found guilty of stabbing and bludgeoning his wife and stepdaughter to death during a retrial. In 2010, the Supreme Court of Florida reversed first-degree murder convictions and vacated death sentences for Pasha, who wanted to defend himself at his trial in 2007 but wasn't allowed. Pasha was convicted of killing Robin Canaday, 43, and her daughter, Ranesha Singleton, 20, in 2002. The jury returned their verdict in less than an hour, 35 minutes more quickly than the original trial. Circuit Judge Kimberly Fernandez admonished Pasha several times during the trial for making statements about his case while witnesses were on the stand. For the sentencing phase of his second trial, Pasha got an lawyer. The jury recommended the death penalty.

• January 2011: Luis Munuzuri-Harris, 31, is convicted of posing as a police officer to rob and rape a 28-year-old woman along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa. He complained when his public defenders said they needed more time to prepare his case, opting to represent himself. Harris cross-examined his own victim and got yanked out of the courtroom after he began to blurt out things about the victim not admitted into the trial. After jurors watched him struggle for three days, Harris asked for a lawyer, calling his attempt at self-representation a "tremendous error in judgment." He received a life sentence.

• July 2011: Robert Glenn Temple, 61, is convicted of stabbing his wife, Rosemary Christensen, to death and burying her in a makeshift grave along the Suwannee River in 1999. Temple declared he would rather be "captain of my own ship" than rely on a public defender. He changed his mind as the trial opened, but when his standby counsel said she would need more time to prepare, Temple changed his mind again, and said he wanted to represent himself after all. Temple vaguely blamed his girlfriend, Lesley L. Stewart, 34, a key prosecution witness. However, during his two-hour cross-examination of Stewart his questions seemed random and focused on trivial matters. Delivering his own closing argument, Temple said he thought jurors would not be so "unintelligent" as to believe the state's claims against him and the testimony of Stewart. Temple was sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors had not sought the death penalty.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every weekday morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

• April 2006: Michael Glenn, 24, is convicted of first-degree murder, attempted robbery with a firearm and robbery with a firearm. Glenn was charged with death of Antonio Powell, 25, during a robbery in 2003. Glenn fired a string of lawyers to represent himself and took the stand to tell his story to the jury. News reports described him during the trial as plodding, stammering and -- often -- objecting unsuccessfully. But he scored some points on cross-examinations. Glenn was sentenced to life in prison.

• June 2006: Christopher Lunz, 39, is convicted in the 2003 robbery and shotgun slaying of his father, David Lunz of Palm Harbor. Lunz ordered his housemate and best friend, William Westerman, 26, to shoot David Lunz with a sawed-off shotgun in a plot to inherit his father's money. Westerman testified against Lunz. Jurors heard Lunz say during closing arguments that he had no alibi, speculate whether the victim was even his father and emphasize that no physical evidence linked him to the crime scene. Lunz was sentenced to life in prison. He killed himself in 2009.

• December 2004: Emory Carter is convicted of murder in a trial in which he cursed the judge, frightened the jury and berated the victim's family. Carter brutally murdered Mike Kelley during a robbery in St. Petersburg in 2000. Carter, who had a history of mental illness but was found competent to stand trial, actually did pretty well at first, according to William Bennett, a defense attorney appointed to assist him. Carter pointed out inconsistencies in testimony and evidence. But he made key errors, especially during closing arguments, when he rambled and didn't stick to the evidence. His case drew headlines after Judge Brandt Downey ordered bailiffs to duct-tape Carter's mouth during sentencing the next month. Downey sent him to prison for life.

• January 2002: After two trials with attorneys that ended with hung juries, Ernest Spann got what he wanted by representing himself: acquittal. Spann was accused of killing 25-year-old Brenda McKenzie in her College Hill home in 1991. Spann, 35, did not go free because he was serving a sentence on federal drug charges. In September, Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett had urged Spann not to dismiss his lawyer. "This is one of the best criminal defense lawyers in Tampa," Padgett told Spann. "He got you a hung jury. What do you want - an acquittal?" "Yeah," Spann replied. "I want an acquittal."

Source: Times files