Wilcox fires attorneys

Published 10:10 am Thursday, May 27, 2010

By Benita Heath

The Tribune

In front of a stunned courtroom, accused murderer Tom Wilcox fired his attorneys.

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The announcement was made during what was to have been a routine pre-trial hearing Wednesday in the courtroom of Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Charles Cooper.

Wilcox is facing the death penalty in the brutal murder of his estranged wife, Amy Wilcox, who died from injuries after being set on fire more than a year ago.

“In conference with our client, Mr. Wilcox feels he needs to seek better counsel to explore his options,” Charles Knight told Cooper. Knight was one of the public defenders appointed to represent Wilcox, who cannot afford his own attorney. Co-counsel was William Eachus.

Now Gene Meyers, chief trial counsel for the Ohio Public Defender’s Office, will represent Wilcox.

“I am going to be one of two lawyers to represent him,” Meyers said. “I have to figure out my colleagues’ schedules” to choose the second counsel.

Both attorneys will come from Columbus for the trial.

Authorities have alleged that Tom Wilcox went to his wife’s home, assaulted her and then set her on fire.

The assault happened on April 29, 2009, and Wilcox died from her injuries almost two months later in June.

The capital case was to have started on June 10. Now it is not known when the trial will be rescheduled as the new public defenders must review all the discovery in the case.

“This puts the state in a difficult position,” Paul Scarsella with the Ohio Attorney General’s office told the court. “Counsel has had adequate preparation. …. The state is prepared to go to trial.”

This will be the third time that the trial has been rescheduled, which was originally to have begun on March 8 of this year.

Since this is a death penalty case, only specially licensed lawyers can represent indigent clients.

After Knight told the courtroom of Wilcox’s decision, Cooper questioned the defendant directly as to his request.

“You are not comfortable to proceed with your defense counsel?” Cooper asked.

Wilcox replied, “No, your honor.”

“You are asking for other attorneys to replace them,” the judge asked.

Wilcox replied, “Yes, sir. I seek other counsel.”

During a recess Knight said he only learned of Wilcox’s decision 10 minutes before court was to begin. Knight, based in Pomeroy and Eachus in Gallipolis have spent the past year on the case.

“We’ve been ready,” Knight said. “We have had long and serious counsels with our client. The state has handled the case very openly and I believe we have as well. But nothing ever surprises you.”

Knight is one of 409 attorneys in Ohio qualified to defend indigent death penalty cases. A person is defined as indigent and eligible for such counsel if he or she has an income of 187.5 percent of the national poverty level.

In his 20 years as a trial attorney Knight has acted as lead counsel in 18 death penalty cases.

Because of the abrupt change in attorneys, Cooper said a postponement was inevitable.

“I can see no way we can go to trial on the tenth of June,” the judge said. “I don’t think it would take nearly as long as last year.”

Like Knight Scarsella said he was shocked by the defense request.

“These cases are tough on everyone. What is important is that we all have the right to a fair trial,” Scarsella said. “My heart goes out to the victim’s family.”

Scarsella said he and his colleague Mindy Kowalski would meet with Amy Wilcox’s family to explain the turn of events in person.

There was no date set for the first pre-trial hearing with Wilcox’s new attorneys.