Jason Olson, Deseret News
David Ragsdale, left, is joined in 4th District Court on Wednesday by Dusty Kawai, his newly appointed public defender.

PROVO — Despite owning a $600,000 house and having $350,000 in the bank, a man charged with gunning down his wife now has a court-appointed attorney.

David Ragsdale, 35, was granted a public defender Wednesday in 4th District Court after he asked his previous defense attorney, Greg Skordas, to step down.

"At this time, I no longer want (Skordas) as my attorney," Ragsdale told Judge Claudia Laycock. "I've been consulting with other lawyers. I'd like to go in a different direction."

Ragsdale is charged with aggravated murder after police said he fatally shot his wife, Kristy Ragsdale, numerous times in a Lehi LDS church parking lot on Jan. 6.

However, when Ragsdale told the judge it would take him several months to get money to retain an attorney, Laycock refused, and eventually granted him a public defender, due to his frozen assets.

Since the aggravated murder charge, Ragsdale has been served a wrongful death suit filed by the guardian ad litem for his two young boys.

He told the judge he couldn't touch any of the $250,000 in equity in his home nor his large bank account, and the $8,000 refund from Skordas would not be enough to hire another attorney.

"I hope it works out for you, Mr. Ragsdale," Laycock said. "Mr. Skordas is a very fine attorney. I hope you haven't given up a very fine attorney needlessly."

Laycock also ruled that Ragsdale must call his sister to inform her that all the evidence she got from Skordas, under a power of attorney, should be turned over to the public defender.

State prosecutors asked for that ruling, concerned that the evidence — which includes pictures of the crime scene, interviews and sensitive details — not get out.

"At this point, regardless of what your sister might be, power of attorney, this is in your hands," Laycock told Ragsdale. "The greatest harm may come to you if this material is distributed where it shouldn't be. It's your defense that's at stake."

Appointed public defender Dusty Kawai told the judge they would abide by that, as they want to ensure Ragsdale gets a fair trial in Utah.

Kawai said he plans to meet with Ragsdale at the jail this morning. Kawai said he expects the case to be handled by several attorneys in their office.

Tamara Ragsdale said she didn't know why her brother asked for a public defender, because they had been interviewing several top Utah attorneys who she said were interested in helping with his defense.

"We had hoped to make a decision by today ... but we've had difficulties getting a timely return of funds and other legal material," she said.

She said they're also waiting for a privately requested psychological evaluation, which she called "critical in the case."

Tamara Ragsdale believes Ragsdale's actions were greatly influenced by a "cocktail of prescriptions," including unmonitored SSRIs — selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors.

"The huge combination of SSRIs and other prescription drugs that David was subjected to played a role in the tragedy," Tamara Ragsdale said. "That is backed up by several experts in the field from across the country."

However, prosecutor Craig Johnson said he doesn't believe the drug defense is viable, calling the crime a premeditated, "cold-blooded killing."

He also said Ragsdale's attitude will greatly influence their decision on whether to pursue the death penalty, which they must declare by Aug. 1.

"We're at a point now where Mr. Ragsdale is basically saying, 'I'm not willing to relieve them of any of the pain from this murder, going to make them testify again.' That really weighs heavily with our decision we have to make in the next three weeks."

E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com