Friday, November 21, 2003

West asks to be own lawyer


Accused trucking-site shooter upset in court

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Tom West, indicted in the deadly shooting spree at a West Chester trucking company, told a judge he wants to act as his own attorney against charges that carry a possible death sentence.

"Your honor, I'd like to represent myself," West said Thursday in Butler County Common Pleas Court.

Judge Keith Spaeth replied: "I don't think that's a good idea."

But West, a 50-year-old drifter, persisted.

West repeatedly said he either wants to act as his own lawyer or wants an attorney other than Greg Howard, his court-appointed lawyer. Howard filed pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity on West's behalf. West, who was agitated before and during his 12-minute court hearing, refused to sign the documents.

Spaeth will consider West's requests at a hearing Tuesday. The judge also ordered psychological evaluations on West's competency to stand trial and on the viability of an insanity defense. He is charged with two counts of aggravated murder and four counts of attempted aggravated murder for the Nov. 6 shootings that killed two men and injured three others at Watkins Motor Lines.

Although West was polite and deferential at his initial court hearing two weeks ago, his demeanor was different Thursday, Assistant Prosecutor Craig Hedric said.

Before court, West complained loudly to sheriff's deputies: "These cuffs are chewin' in my ankles, man! You guys did that on purpose!" He sneered at news reporters and photographers and exclaimed: "A circus!"

Then, as Hedric recited the charges, West pressed his palm to his forehead, dropped his head back and chuckled.

Such conduct calls into question West's competency to stand trial, Howard said. To be competent, a defendant must be able to aid in his defense and understand the proceedings against him. Howard said his client has refused to talk to him and, "at this point in time, I don't think he understands anything."

But Hedric said he thinks West altered his behavior because he now faces the death penalty. Compared to two weeks ago, "he was more calculating today (Thursday)," Hedric said. "I think he made some conscious decisions to act up and act out."

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com




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