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St. Clair trial delayed until January 2009

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Continuance prompts need for new prosecutors

By Bob White

 

Motions ask that prosecutor, defense attorney be removed from case By BOB WHITE

bwhite@thenewsenterprise.com

ELIZABETHTOWN — Fire the 17th appointed defense attorney.

Remove a Franklin District judge candidate as prosecutor.

And try a death penalty case without a jury.

Five-time convicted killer Michael Dale St. Clair made several requests Monday to Special Judge Stephen Ryan during a pre-trial conference in Hardin Circuit Court.

The 2½-hour hearing was a hodgepodge of judicial housekeeping in preparation for St. Clair’s Sept. 3 kidnapping trial — and a mess of requests and motions from St. Clair.

The Kentucky death row inmate — twice convicted of the 1991 murder of Bardstown resident Frank Brady in Bullitt County — is scheduled to go on trial in Hardin County again in September for Brady’s kidnapping, which occurred at a Sonora truck stop.

Prior convictions in Bullitt and Hardin counties were overturned by an appellate court.  St. Clair also has been convicted and sentenced four times to life without parole in Oklahoma.

He was slated to be tried again in Hardin County a year-and-a-half ago, but St. Clair’s involvement as co-counsel has led to numerous delays and continuances, due mostly to his filing of various motions.

A set of motions filed early this year and late last year resulted in Senior Judge Janet Coleman’s recusal from the case. Jefferson County Judge Anne O’Malley Shake was assigned the case temporarily, before Ryan accepted the case about three months ago.

On numerous occasions during his 17-year prosecution and re-prosecution, St. Clair has succeeded in removing defense attorneys. Department for Public Advocacy attorneys Vince Yustas and Jon Heineman — St. Clair’s 16th and 17th attorneys on the case — now are assisting him as he prepares his case.

Monday, however, he asked Ryan to remove Yustas as co-counsel.

“He referred to me as ‘stupid’ in a letter,” St. Clair told Ryan of Yustas. “I don’t think that’s very professional.”

Ryan told St. Clair that attorneys sometimes talk unprofessionally to their co-counsels.

In a May letter to The News-Enterprise, St. Clair said he lost confidence in Yustas’ ability to represent him adequately. That issue was not discussed in court Monday.

Lead prosecutor Dana Todd also is on St. Clair’s list of people he wants removed from his case.

St. Clair told Ryan the state prosecutor’s candidacy for district judge in Franklin County will create a “prejudice” against the defendant during trial, because of judges’ perceived wisdom, honor and truthfulness.

“I have friends that are judges and what they say, you can usually take to the bank,” St. Clair said.

Todd is running against Squire N. “Will” Williams for the non-partisan position, but Ryan said her candidacy would not influence the case against St. Clair.

He also was critical of Yustas, saying he made frequent comments about Todd’s appearance.

St. Clair’s formal motion for a bench trial was taken under submission.

In a motion filed early this year, St. Clair asked that all jurors be paid minimum wage for their time. He also requested jurors be non-smokers.

Neither motion was granted.

Also taken under submission was St. Clair’s last minute, unexpected request to have active involvement in his trial.

In a previous court hearing this year, St. Clair and all parties involved agreed he would participate only in pre-trial court proceedings. St. Clair’s attitude toward his attorneys has changed since the previous hearing.

“I wonder if these attorneys will be ready for trial,” St. Clair told Ryan.

The judge warned St. Clair against self-representation during his trial and advised him to school himself on rules relating to questioning and court procedure if he truly intends to represent himself.

Todd said the case will remain scheduled for September until a motion to continue is filed and granted. She wouldn’t comment on any other details of the case.

Another pre-trial conference is schedule for Aug. 28.

Upon St. Clair’s arrival for that hearing from the state prison in Eddyville, he’ll be lodged in Hardin County’s jail through the completion of his scheduled September trial.

St. Clair could face the death penalty if convicted again. 

Bob White can be

reached at (270) 505-1750.