Planned testimony in this morning's sentencing trial for convicted murderer Floyd Eugene Maestas was derailed after he penned a letter to the judge indicating he wants to fire his attorneys and represent himself.
At issue is anticipated testimony that would illustrate the troubled past of the 52-year-old man, including incidences of sexual and physical abuse and poverty.
Maestas, in his letter, told 3rd District Court Judge Paul Maughan he would "stipulate" although it was unclear what he meant.
But because of the letter, Maughan has not allowed the 12-member jury to be seated and prosecutors and defense attorneys have been huddling in separate corners.
In court, Maestas told the judge, "it's my case," and "today it will be over."
"He doesn't want us to go into any negative or unflattering history of his family," defense attorney Michael Sikora said, adding that the defense team doesn't want to refrain from presenting that evidence.
But later this morning the judge agreed with Maestas, ruling from the bench that language in a U.S. Supreme Court decision does allow a criminal defendant to direct their own defense.
"It's Mr. Maestas' trial," Maughan said, going on to direct the man's defense team to meet with their client to discuss what changes should be made, if any, in the evidence to be presented.
The case against Maestas who could face the death penalty because of his conviction last week of aggravated murder has reached the point in which defense attorneys are putting on witnesses to detail Maestas' troubled past as a mitigating factor.
They hope such details will spare the killer's life because prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
But in Maughan's ruling, he said the right of Maestas to shape the direction of his defense is clear.
"If that means no mitigation will be presented then so be it," Maughan said.
Maestas appeared so adamant about his wishes that he did not want the judge to share the contents of the letter with his own defense team, but was willing to let prosecutors see it. The judge shared the letter with both sides.
In court, prosecutor Kent Morgan emphasized that there had been no secret or private communications with Maestas or his defense team.
Maestas was convicted of killing Donna Lou Bott on Sept. 28, 2004 after he broke into her Glendale home, beat her, strangled her, stabbed her and stomped on her, rupturing her aorta. His criminal history, which spans three decades, includes several attacks which have targeted elderly women.
After today's ruling, Maughan ordered court recessed for a lunch break. When the case resumes this afternoon, Maughan made it clear the jury will not return to the court room until the matter is completely resolved.Sikora said that allowing Maestas to represent himself puts him in grave danger of receiving the death penalty and could give rise to significant issues on appeal.
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